Johannesburg – The Sharks weathered second half spell pressure to beat the Queensland Reds 35-20 at King's Park in Durban on Saturday night, and maintain their position at the top of the Super Rugby standings.
Their fourth win of the season also saw them stretch their unbeaten start to the 2014 campaign. The Sharks came into the match without the services of Pieter-Steph du Toit, who was ruled out of action for the rest of the year with a knee ligament injury.
Stephan Lewies replaced him in the starting line-up, and was put under massive pressure by the experienced Rob Simmons and James Horwill, who dominated the line-out contest.
The Sharks also replaced the injured Paul Jordaan with Sibusiso Sithole at centre, while Bok winger JP Pietersen returned from his stint in Japan, replacing Odwa Ndungane, who was away on compassionate leave.
Flanker Willem Alberts scored a 28th minute try for the hosts, which was converted by fly-half Pat Lambie. Two monstrous, first-half penalties by Frans Steyn, as well as four more by Lambie, saw the Sharks take control of the match in the first period.
The visitors scored two penalties of their own in the first half, through the boot of Quade Cooper, but they were left to rue an excellent opportunity, as Mike Harris dropped the ball when he was almost under the poles, on the stroke of half-time.
Harris made amends for his error in the 54th minute, after concerted Reds' pressure, running onto a slick Cooper pass, before slicing through the Sharks midfield for the visitors' first try.
Wallaby scrumhalf Will Genia added the Reds' second try in the 64th minute, finding space on the fringes of a ruck, and running in from 25 metres.
Cooper added the conversion to reduce the deficit to just eight points, with 15 minutes to play.
But the Reds' momentum was hampered by a yellow card to substitute Beau Robinson in the 67th minute, as he was penalised for infringing at the ruck.
The Sharks, who had only a Lambie penalty to show for their efforts in the second period, had an excelllent chance to seal the match in the 74th minute, after SP Marais had fed skipper Bismarck du Plessis on the left wing, who chipped ahead, only for Lwazi Mvovo to drop the ball, five metres from the try-line.
Replacement scrum-half Charl McLeod tried in vain to dot down the loose ball, but lost control, under pressure from Genia.
Replacement prop Dale Chadwick finally secured a hard-fought win for the hosts in the 78th minute, picking up and bundling over from five metres out. Lambie added the conversion, and the Sharks secured a hard-fought 35-20 victory.
Scorers: Sharks (25) 35 Try: Willem Alberts, Dale Chadwick Conversion: Pat Lambie (2) Penalties: Lambie (5), Frans Steyn (2)
Queensland Reds (6) 20 Tries: Mike Harris, Will Genia Conversions: Quade Cooper (2) Penalties: Cooper (2) Ends. – Sapa