Durban – The Sharks will be kicking themselves all the way from Cardiff to Durban after they did everything but win in the Welsh capital on Saturday night, with the home team hanging on to prevail 23-17 in this fourth-round United Rugby Championship match.
The men from KZN won just about every department of the game barring the score line but could not convert their massive domination of the second half into points.
The opening exchanges belonged to Cardiff and after two penalties against the Sharks, flyhalf Rhys Priestland kicked his team ahead in the sixth minute, and two minutes later the Sharks conceded the softest of tries when fullback Matthew Morgan wrestled free from a half tackle and sped through for a try under the crossbar.
The Sharks were 10-0 down after as many minutes and when they did get into the Cardiff half for the first time, they could not make it count when Ruan Pienaar missed a “gimmee” shot at goal after Cardiff had been penalised for pulling down a maul.
Fifteen minutes before half time, Curwin Bosch spilled an up and under in his 22 to give the home side prime position and centre Will Halaholo broke through following a lineout to score at the posts, and the Priestland conversion meant the Sharks were 17-0 down.
The Durbanites woke up from 30 minutes of stupor to work the ball into the Cardiff 22 and Thomas du Toi wrestled over for a much needed score.
And five minutes later, captain Phespi Buthelezi won a turnover penalty only for Bosch to miss a sitter.
Just before half time, Dylan Richardson did brilliantly to win a turnover around the centre spot only for the kick to the corner to yield no profit, but as the hooter blasted, a maul penalty was won and this time it was Boeta Chamberlain who had a shot at goal, and he made no mistake to close the score to 17-10 at half time.
The third quarter totally belonged to the Sharks but agonisingly for them, they could not convert possession in the enemy danger zone into points.
Three minutes into the half, Du Toit won a penalty in the enemy 22 but Cardiff were able to hold up the resulting maul at the corner and a prime scoring opportunity was lost.
And five minutes later, another hard-won penalty for the Sharks was kicked to the corner instead of an easy three points but the forwards could not make it count, even when then they were awarded another penalty and again the kick to the corner strategy was nullified.
Still more Sharks pressure on the Cardiff line yielded another penalty but when the Sharks opted for a scrum, they were subsequently held up and turned over.
There was a change of strategy from the Sharks in the 63rd minute when a long range shot at goal was given to Bosch, but he missed and then almost immeditatly — and completely against the run of play Cardiff won a penalty in the Sharks’ half and Priestland pushed his team into a 10-point lead with 12 minutes remaining.
But the Sharks kept on pushing and at last they were rewarded when right wing Marnus Potgieter was freed on the right wing for a run to the line, and the conversion made it a three-point game with eight minutes to go.
But Cardiff had the last say when — once more against the run of play — they won a penalty in the Sharks’ 22 for Priestland to convert into points.
Cardiff — 23: Tries: Matthew Morgan, Will Halaholo. Penalties: Rhys Priestland (3). Conversions: Priestland. (2)
Sharks — 17: Tries: Thomas du Toit, Marnus Potgieter. Conversion: Curwin Bosch. Penalty: Boeta Chamberlain.