Cape Town — The Sharks made heavy weather of it in the second half, but eventually got the job done to record a 32-3 bonus-point victory over Bordeaux Begles on Saturday that secured them a place in the round of 16 playoffs.
The only real problem to come out of the Kings Park clash were injuries to hooker Bongi Mbonambi and fullback Boeta Chamberlain (both shoulder), which director of rugby Neil Powell will hope are not too serious in the end.
Powell’s decision to send a second-string squad to Galway for last week’s URC defeat to Connacht paid off, as his heavyweight Springbok-laden side overwhelmed Bordeaux at times.
The likes of Eben Etzebeth, Ox Nche and Thomas du Toit did the hard yards to allow Siya Kolisi, Jaden Hendrikse, Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi to play with freedom on attack.
The Sharks pack flexed their muscles from the start, imposing themselves on their French opponents with vigour in the scrums and collisions.
After Mapimpi nearly dotted down from a well-weighted Hendrikse grubber in the 12th minute, the Bok scrumhalf darted over soon afterwards from a tap penalty to get the ball rolling.
Blindside flank Vincent Tshituka and No 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe also took their team over the advantage line with their ball-carrying, as well as big hits in defence to disrupt any kind of rhythm Bordeaux were trying to find.
Hendrikse grabbed his second of the afternoon with another surge from the base of the ruck, and at 15-0 within 23 minutes, the Durbanites were well on their way to victory.
Bordeaux — who had former Lions, Sharks and Bulls wing Madosh Tambwe in their line-up — didn’t offer much of a threat, and spent their time trying to spoil things and keep the score down with a number of infringements.
Loosehead prop Christopher Vaotoa eventually received a yellow card for repeated scrum penalties as he came under immense pressure from Du Toit, and the Sharks took full advantage as lock Gerbrandt Grobler forced his way over around the half-hour mark.
Bordeaux hooker Clement Maynadier was also sent to the sin-bin in that passage of play for not rolling away at the ruck, and it seemed as if the Sharks would go on a rampage either side of halftime.
But their execution on attack and decision-making let them down, with flyhalf Lionel Cronje — a late injury replacement for Curwin Bosch before kickoff — using chip and cross-kicks too often instead of feeding the likes of Am and Mapimpi.
Bordeaux received two more yellow cards in the third quarter, but the Sharks fans had to wait until the 59th minute for the four-try bonus point to be claimed — with wing Marnus Potgieter finishing off following a strong run by Rohan Janse van Rensburg and a sublime pick-up and offload from Kolisi.
Potgieter ran his second touchdown a few minutes later to stretch the score beyond the 30-point mark, but while the Sharks were unable to add to their tally in the hot and humid conditions, Powell will be pleased with the final outcome.
Now he will have to consider whether to send his best team to London to take on the Harlequins in the Champions Cup next Saturday to push for a Durban playoff, or keep them at home for another week before the Edinburgh match in Scotland a week later in the URC.
Sharks 32 – Tries: Jaden Hendrikse (2), Gerbrandt Grobler, Marnus Potgieter (2). Conversions: Lionel Cronje (2). Penalty: Cronje (1).
Bordeaux 3 – Penalty: Maxime Lucu (1).