It’s not often that Pietermaritzburg rugby supporters are treated to a display of Sharks rugby right on their doorstep. But last night the few thousand fans who braved the persistent drizzle to pack the quaint Woodburn Stadium were able to enjoy a feast of entertainment as the Durban side thumped the Leopards 71-8 in their first Super Rugby warm-up game.
In fact the encounter at this venue was only made possible by the Msunduzi Municipality’s generous gesture to supply electricity to the stadium, which has otherwise become a strictly daytime facility.
However, it was the Sharks who set the place alight with a clinical display of rugby, which was made more impressive by the fact that it was the first hit-out in longer than three months for many of the players and that the field conditions were rather slippery.
It goes without saying that a Leopards side made up of relative unknowns was never going to provide the sternest opposition, but this encounter was more about providing an opportunity for the Sharks to get back into contact in a match situation and shake off any rustiness.
In this regard, the Sharks coaches should be mostly pleased with the performance produced and the match practice received last night, with the men in black and white operating efficiently in most aspects of play.
By and large the scrum functioned well, with the young front-row combination standing firm, although the line-out remains a work in progress.
The Sharks managed to open up a commanding 28-point lead at half-time, with coach John Plumtree ringing the changes at the break as Craig Burden, “Beast” Mtawarira, Keegan Daniel, Paul Jordaan, Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee, Louis Ludik and Anton Bresler all came on from the bench.
With the extended group of players who travelled to Pietermaritzburg all able to get a run, it will stand the squad in good stead for next weekend’s final warm-up match against the Pumas in Nelspruit, when the first-choice combinations are likely to be selected.
In the opening minutes of last night’s game, though, a beautiful break by stand-in captain Frans Steyn brought the Sharks right into the red zone before Pat Lambie ultimately rounded off the first try.
With about as many holes in the Leopards’ defence as a block of Swiss cheese, Jacques Botes was the next try-scorer in the 15th minute after a prolonged period of attack from the Sharks.
The Leopards at least opened their account with a penalty to flyhalf Johnny Welthagen, but another slick sequence of passing and play soon culminated in a try to Odwa Ndungane, followed by another to Tera Mtembu on the half-hour mark.
Lwazi Mvovo scored the team’s fifth try before the break to make it 31-3 at half-time, with Jean Deysel, Steyn, Botes, Mvovo, Allan Dell and Mtembu all dotting down in the second period.
A couple of real concerns for the Sharks, though, will be the injuries sustained by skipper Daniel and centre Tim Whitehead.
After the match, coach John Plumtree said Daniel appeared to have suffered a knee injury that could keep him out for a few weeks. Whitehead was thought to have broken an arm.
Both injuries, as well as a slight knock that Coetzee received, will be further assessed in the coming days.
Commenting on the match, Plumtree said he was certainly satisfied with most of what he had seen.
“I thought the boys looked pretty sharp,” he said. “There were obviously some areas where we weren’t so clinical, but there was some good stuff.
“Understandably there are things to work on and areas where we need to be more accurate, but the attitude shown was pretty good.”
Sharks (31) 71 Leopards (3) 8
Sharks – Tries: Lambie, Botes (2), Ndungane, Mtembu (2), Mvovo (2), Deysel, Steyn, Dell; conversions: Lambie (5), Meyer Bosman (3).
Leopards – Tries: Elardus Venter; penalties: Welthagen. - Independent on Saturday