Durban – Sharks coach Brad Macleod-Henderson defended their snatch-and-run victory after they came from behind to oust the Free State Cheetahs on Saturday.
Macleod-Henderson insisted the win in Durban highlighted the character of the defending champions.
A long-range Fred Zeilinga penalty four minutes from time enabled the coastal side to steal a 19-16 triumph at Kings Park.
“All victories come down to what the scoreboard says. We managed to win that battle,” Macleod-Henderson said.
The Bloemfontein visitors had lead the game and looked far better for 76 minutes, thanks to a superb try by fullback Clayton Blommetjies and the boot of flyhalf Willie du Plessis.
However, former Springbok wing Tonderai Chavhanga crossed for the Sharks’ only try with 12 minutes to play, before Zeilinga, who kicked 14 points, landed a raking 45 metre kick to steal the win.
“It was a very tight game, but after being 13-0 down and to come back like we did to get the win, we’re obviously very happy,” Macleod-Henderson said.
“The big positive is the guys didn’t lie down. They kept on fighting, they kept on playing with huge amounts of commitment and courage to get the win under trying circumstances.
“The first half we probably didn’t get anything going. Our handling let us down, we were probably a bit weak at the breakdown, so there were quite a few areas to work on.”
It was 13-3 at the changeover and within 10 minutes, Macleod-Henderson introduced substitutes Lourens Adriaanse, Thomas du Toit, Conrad Hoffmann and Lionel Cronje, a move that turned the tide.
“I think the changes in the second half made a huge difference,” the Sharks mentor said.
“I made them a bit earlier than usual and I think they came on and had a big impact.
“It just felt like it wasn’t really working and we’re fortunate that we have quality players on our bench. They came on and played very nicely for us.”
A disappointed Free State coach Rory Duncan gave credit to the Sharks for the way they hit back, rather than criticising his charges for letting the win get away from them.
“It’s unfortunate that we lost,” said Duncan.
“You can use the word slip, but I think the Sharks ground their way back very well, got to an even score and then put the points on to win it.”
The Cheetahs still had a chance to win the game at the death, but prop Kevin Stevens was stopped just short of the line – the final call coming from television match official (TMO) Jason Jaftha.
“I would like to be able to put the blame on the TMO, but I don’t think it should have come down to that,” Duncan said.
“We should have won the game a lot earlier when we had opportunities, especially in that first half.
“If it’s inconclusive, then it’s inconclusive. You can’t make something out of nothing.” – Sapa