CAPE TOWN – The Sharks scored 21 points in the second half to pull off an impressive comeback and win their Rainbow Cup SA-opener against the Stormers 33-30 at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
The Stormers started off well and were the dominant team in the opening half, but their three cards – one yellow and a double red – tainted a game that they will no doubt feel they could have taken.
The game had some big subplots – like Pieter-Steph du Toit returning to play his first game in over a year and Siya Kolisi running out against his former team for the first time since joining the Sharks – but it was the Durban side’s comeback and those thrilling final minutes, with its high-pressure moments and interesting referee-referrals, that stole the show.
Stormers flyhalf Damian Willemse’s late try, which made it a three-point game, was another moment to savour, not only because it narrowed the margin, but also because of the breathtakingly stunning way in which it happened.
The Stormers got on the scoreboard within the opening 10 minutes. Springbok scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies was the one to go over for the try after centre Ruhan Nel sowed just how good he is at keeping the ball alive with some big strides and fine ball control into the Sharks’ red zone, before working it back inside for Damian Willemse to add a touch and put Jantjies away to finish off (10-0).
It didn’t take the hosts long to visit the Sharks’ in-goal again. From a scrum in their 22, the Stormers worked upfield, won a lineout near the halfway line and made the basics look too good when they worked the ball out and Wolhuter deceived a defender before giving a crisp inside pass to centre Rikus Pretorius to exploit the opposition’s poor defence at the back to stroll over (17-0).
Their strong start took a blow when wing Seabelo Senatla was shown red for a nasty, or reckless, move on Aphelele Fassi, who tried to contest for the high ball.
They went another man down when No 8 Willie Engelbrecht saw yellow for a high tackle shortly afterwards, and on this one the Sharks capitalised, running in a converted try through front-rower Thomas du Toit (17-7).
The Cape side still managed to get on the scoresheet again after hooker Scarra Ntubeni won a penalty at the breakdown, allowing Wolhuter another shot to connect a three-pointer (20-7).
Another Wolhuter penalty put them three more up, but the Sharks pulled off a superb lineout move at the front, which saw Sikhumbuzo Notshe hitting the openside before popping the ball to Fez Mbatha to crash over on the stroke of half time (23-12).
The Sharks scored first after the break through Renier Hugo (23-19), and another card to Engelbrecht – this time red - will surely warrant ‘discipline’ as a main topic during the review.
Hugo made it a quickfire hat-trick after that to put the visitors 33-23 up with 26 minutes on the clock. After that, Ruhan Nel ran in what would have been a vital try for the hosts at the start of the final quarter, but it disallowed.
Willemse’s final-10 try, converted by replacement flyhalf Abner van Reenen, made it a three-point game. And while there would have been some edge-of-the-seat nailbiting as Nel dived on the ball in what would have been the match-winning try, it wasn’t to be, and the Sharks celebrated.
Stormers: Tries: Herschel Jantjies, Rikus Pretorius, Damian Willemse Conversions: Kade Wolhuter (2), Abner van Reenen Penalties: Wolhuter (3) Red card: Seabelo Senatla, Engelbrecht Yellow card: Willie Engelbrecht
Sharks: Tries: Thomas du Toit, Fez Mbatha, Reniel Hugo (3) Conversions: Curwin Bosch (4) Yellow card: Jeremy Ward