DURBAN – One wonders if there has been a Currie Cup match quite as curious as this one, ultimately won 47-31 by the Sharks to propel them to the top of the Currie Cup log.
The oldest cliché in the book “a game of two halves” has to be given an airing after the Lions completely dominated the first half and then were blown away in the second, with the visitors scoring 42 points.
Of course, the big talking point is going to be the game-changing moment early in the second half when Lions hooker Robbie Coetzee was red-carded for (probably accidentally) kicking Jacques Vermeulen in the eye as the Sharks flank was in the process of scoring a try, sparking a remarkable Sharks comeback from 31-5 down 10 minutes into the second half.
A calm analysis of an astonishing first half would be that a Lions team that was denuded by call-ups to the Springboks, gelled after three rounds of struggling while the Sharks were out on their feet in this third game for them in eight days.
Nevertheless, there could be no excuse for the endless errors in a horror half for the Sharks in which they could not do a thing right.
The set-piece did not function... actually nothing did.
But let’s take nothing away from a Lions team that lost 11 players to the national cause and played some sublime rugby, notching up the bonus point try as early as the 30th minute.
Jaded or not, the Sharks were frankly embarrassing. They were fielding an almost Super Rugby strength pack but often could not win their ball in the scrums and lineouts.
All the early pressure was from the Lions but after 10 minutes of fierce defending, Rohan Janse van Rensburg found himself on the end of a grubber into the in-goal area and Jaco van der Walt added the conversion.
The home side doubled their score when they pounced on the ball when a Shark attack broke down in the Lions 22 and the ball was hacked up field where centre Jacques Nel gathered and scored.
And the Lions’ start to the game became a dream one when they scored their third try through wing Anthony Volmink on 20 minutes.
It just got better for the men in red and white. A Sharks error in a lineout on their line gave Coetzee the opportunity to score their fourth try and it was 24-0 after half an hour.
There was respite for the visitors three minutes after the hooter when Tera Mtembu scored but then Lions flanker Fabian Booysen scored early in the second half and after missing two earlier conversions, Van der Walt added the extra points for a 31-5 lead.
The Sharks best player, Vermeulen, then scored the try that changed it all, getting a boot in the eye from Coetzee that resulted in red card. It was 31-12 with 30 minutes to go and the opposition a man down.
The Lions scrum was crippled by the loss of Coetzee and the Sharks were awarded a penalty try when the seven-man Lions scrum repeatedly infringed near their line.
It was 31-19 and when the Sharks had a scrum a few minutes later in front of the Lions posts, again the Lions were shoved off the ball and replacement scrumhalf Louis Schreuder scored and the conversion made it a five-point game at 31-26.
Sharks replacement front ranker John-Hubert Meyer levelled the score at 31-31 and April’s conversion put the Sharks ahead.
Vermeulen scored his second and Keegan Daniel added the final touch in the 78th minute.