Durban — For forty minutes of this game, it looked like Connacht were going to make a clean sweep of South African opposition in the United Rugby Championship but an incredible second-half transformation from the Sharks secured a 41-21 bonus-point win they so desperately wanted to keep alive their hopes of finishing in the top four.
Connacht had been bright and breezy in the afternoon sunshine in Durban while the Sharks were lethargic and clumsy until the coach surely put something interesting in the half-time drinks, and the Dr Jekyl of the first 40 became a lethal Mr Hyde, and they scored 31 unanswered points
It was indeed first blood in the game to the Irishmen, via a penalty from slap in front of the posts by Conor Fitzgerald in the eighth minute.
Sharks captain Thomas du Toit won a penalty turnover at the breakdown but his flyhalf hit the upright from a fair distance out and into a swirling wind, but just a minute later Connacht infringed in front of their posts and this time Bosch made no mistake.
Interestingly, the Sharks and Connacht have the worst goal-kicking success rate in the competition but Fitzgerald was on song, nailing his second as the game hit the opening quarter mark.
In a pivotal moment, Connacht right wing John Porch was yellow carded for a high tackle on Sharks centre Ben Tapuai and he had hardy taken his seat in the naughty corner when the Sharks had scored the first try of the match after the penalty had been kicked to the corner and lock Gerbrandt Grobler was driven over, and the conversion pushed the Sharks into a 10-6 lead.
The Irish struck back immediately and emphatically via their own lock, Gavin Thornbury, who charged down scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse from the restart, gathered and scored. The conversion was missed but the visitors were 11-10 up at the half-hour mark.
The penalty count was mounting against the home side, especially at the breakdown where Connacht were highly physical, and Fitzgerald nailed a beauty from near the touchline.
Connacht were on fire as half-time approached with scrumhalf Caolin Blade scoring a beauty in his 150th appearance. He broke from a ruck on the Sharks’ 22, fed to prop Finlay Bealham, who drew the fullback and then gave it back to Blade for the score.
Connacht were all smiles for their unexpected 21-10 half-time lead while the Sharks were seriously disappointing and did not look like a side playing for a top four finish in the competition and they would have to play the second half without Du Toit, who went off with suspected concussion.
Clearly having been given a rev in the dressing room, the Sharks came out with greater purpose and centre Marius Louw scrambled over after a break by Grant Williams, who had come on for injured centre Ben Tapuai.
Soon after, fullback Aphelele Fassi screamed through from deep in his half and 50m later offloaded to Williams near the line but he was held up in a high tackle, and in what is bread and butter for the Sharks, the penalty went to the corner and hooker Bongi Mbonambi muscled over.
Connacht had not had a chance to catch their breath when Grobler scored a carbon copy try to his first, a shove over from a penalty lineout drive.
It was 21 points in just over 10 minutes after the break and suddenly the Sharks were in the lead 31-21, and the bonus point had been banked.
Bosch kicked his second penalty and then burly Le Roux Roets barged over for his team’s fifth try.
Sharks 41 — Tries: Gerbrandt Grobler (2) Marius Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Le Roux Roets. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (5). Penalties: Bosch (2)
Connacht 21 — Tries: Gavin Thornbury, Caolin Blade: Conversion: Conor Fitzgerald. Penalties: Fitzgerald (3)