The 34-29 Super Rugby win for the 2016 finalists came courtesy of a try in the last five minutes by loose forward Jaco Kriel, who streaked down the right-hand touchline after being put into the gap by fellow flank Kwagga Smith, who cut the Sharks defence to pieces with a wonderful sidestep.
It was a see-sawing battle in the second half after the Sharks led 16-6 at one stage in the first stanza, with the scoreboard moving from 23-23 to 26-26 and eventually 29-29 with about six minutes to go.
Then came Kriel’s decisive moment, and the Lions could breathe a sigh of relief after being under the pump for most of the game from the relentless Sharks, who were inspired by the incredible kicking prowess of young flyhalf Curwin Bosch in what was a spectacular game.
“I believe it’s just that ability to stay calm under pressure. They started really well, and were 13 or so points ahead of us. But we stayed calm and we played for 80 minutes,” No 8 Whiteley said.
“That’s one thing that I credit to the guys – we really go to the end and play to the distance, and tonight, we had to do that. I really enjoyed that. That’s why we play the game, for games like these.
“Credit to the Sharks – they came to play tonight, and tactically, they played really smartly. Of course with Curwin there, any ill-discipline was three points. So, a lot of credit has to go to them for the contest they put out tonight.
“We enjoyed it out there, and this was great for us. We probably had it a bit easier in our previous games, barring the Jaguares game away. This was a fight, and we need to grind it out in this competition to get better.”
The yellow card to Sharks lock Etienne Oosthuizen just before halftime – for a tackle around the neck of Kriel – proved to be a pivotal moment in the game as the Lions took full advantage, with hooker Malcolm Marx scoring from a driving maul before the break, and wing Courtnall Skosan rounding off a classy attacking move by the backs early in the second half to put the home side back in the lead.
“Credit to them – they played until the last stages of the game, and obviously got the points. We started off well, few lapses of concentration, but it was a good game of rugby,” Sharks captain Tera Mtembu said.
“(The yellow card) played a massive role and they got seven points in the first half, when we were down to 14 men. Ill-discipline again let us down.
“Look, we never stopped believing, until the last minute. Even with that last scrum, we really wanted to win this game. But obviously the ball bounced the Lions’ way and they deserved the win today.”
The Sharks’ 19-year-old No 10 Bosch, who was named the Man of the Match after contributing 19 points – including a long-range drop goal and a penalty from around 60 metres out – said that the attacking style of both teams was a positive step forward for South African rugby.
“It’s great. I must give credit to all the South African teams. We are stepping up to the
In terms of his own form, he said that former Springbok flyhalf Braam van Straaten’s work with the Sharks goal-kickers had improved his performance.
“It’s pretty nice to get recognition for the good work that we do on the field. But I must say that I am the one getting the prizes, but my teammates are the ones working hard. So credit must go to them,” Bosch said.
“I’m not sure (about the distance of the penalty)! I just usually go through my normal routine, and just hope the ball goes over.
“Ja, definitely, Braam’s helped a lot. I think all our kickers at the Sharks are doing very well at the moment. So credit must go to Braam – he’s put in the hard work and it’s paying off.”
The Lions will enjoy a bye next weekend, while the Sharks host the Jaguares in
African News Agency (ANA)