Sharks (20) 25
Stormers (6) 20
What looked like a ripple rather a storm in a teacup became an uncomfortable rumble before the Sharks at last calmed the never-say-die Capetonians in a night of high Super Rugby drama in Durban on Saturday night.
The Stormers seemed to have sunk meekly before the surface at 6-20 at half-time, having had their set piece savaged by the Sharks, but they responded with resolve in the second half to threaten not only a comeback, but to even salvage a win.
But a Sharks side running on high octane fuel hung on, despite being outscored by nine points in the second period, to ultimately blow the South African Conference wide open and send a warning out to the rest of the competition that Durban ain’t done yet.
A month ago the Sharks had no price on being meaningful contenders, but they have won four in a row following a depressing defeat to the Chiefs in their post-tour, homecoming match, and with the Bulls having lost twice over the last fortnight and the Stormers sinking into the Indian Ocean on Saturday night, the Sharks suddenly have their destiny in their own hands.
They face the Lions in Joburg next week; then enjoy four points courtesy of a bye following the June break for the England tour, and then host the Bulls and Cheetahs in Durban before the play-offs.
And with the Bulls locking horns with the Stormers in Pretoria next week, the Sharks will make further headway on one of their two rivals if they beat the Lions.
The Sharks had gone into Saturday night’s match having lost three in a row to the Stormers, but with the impetus of having won three in a row of their own, whereas their opposition had won 10 of their last 11 matches – their only loss being to the formidable Crusaders in Christchurch in a tour game.
The Stormers’ success had been built around the structure of their play, the watertight foundations of their set pieces and kicking game, yet the Sharks beat them at their own game in the first half to set up the win.
Never before this season have the Stormers been scrummed as they were on Saturday night, and had their usually impregnable lineout so heavily raided.
The Sharks forwards were magnificent, and all the more glory to them, given that they were poor in the first half of the competition.
A tense opening ten minutes ultimately went the way of the Stormers on the scoreboard when Peter Grant nailed a relatively easy penalty.
The Sharks equalised minutes later when the Stormers forwards knocked on from the restart and from the resulting territorial position, the Sharks worked a penalty for Patrick Lambie to goal.
But Grant nudged his team 6-3 ahead a few minutes later, again from a well-worked position, following the restart, only for the Sharks to in turn respond brilliantly when an up-and-under not long after the kick-off bounced into the willing hands of Willem Alberts, who rampaged towards the goal-line and, when a penalty was awarded for offside, the quick-witted Charl McLeod whipped the ball out to Frederic Michalak, who wriggled through the defence.
Lambie converted for a 10-6 lead.
The middle part of the first half belonged to the Sharks and they fully deserved to go three points further ahead when Lambie punished the Stormers for an infringement at a ruck.
Matches of huge intensity are won on pivotal moments and there was none more key than in the five minutes before half-time, when the Stormers had a put-in to a set scrum in their 22, but were turned over, and when the Sharks then fed the scrum, Keegan Daniel first made the space for Willem Alberts to advance to within inches of the line, but then received it back himself to dash over for a well-deserved personal score.
Lambie’s conversion put the Sharks into a comfortable 20-6 lead.
Five minutes into the second half, the Sharks appeared to be over the hills and far away when Marcell Coetzee made the running down the blind side for Lwazi Mvovo to score in the corner, and the Sharks were in a seemingly unassailable 25-6 lead.
But two Gio Aplon tries out of nothing changed the whole complexion, and as the rain descended in the final quarter, the Sharks were forced from attacking mode into that of brave defenders.
Sharks: Tries: Frederic Michalak, Keegan Daniels, Lwazi Mvovo. Conversions: Patrick Lambie (2). Penalties: Patrick Lambie (2)
Stormers: Tries: Gio Aplon (2). Conversion: Peter Grant (2). Penalty: Peter Grant (2).