Patrick Lambie leaves the field after a clash with Sharks teammate Rhyno Smith. Photo: Richard Huggard, BackpagePix
This was a fantastic game of rugby, ultimately won in dramatic fashion 35-32 by the Southern Kings at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday night.

But what a pity that it could be overshadowed as being the occasion that has possibly ended the career of a great talent in Patrick Lambie.

The desperately unlucky 25-year-old has had the most wretched run with injuries, with a number of them involving concussion, and rugby fans across the country would have felt terrible for the Sharks captain when he banged heads with teammate Rhyno Smith half an hour into the game and left the field for a concussion test shortly after, and did not return.

The match was a wonderful reminder of how much talent is in the Eastern Cape, and how embarrassing it is going to be for Saru should they confirm that the Kings are to be one of the two South African teams culled from Super Rugby.

Apart from a Kings team resplendent in talent, many of the Sharks players hail from the Eastern Cape in centres Lukhanyo Am and Jeremy Ward, wing Lwazi Mvovo and flank Philip van der Walt, while also in the Kings team were Sharks discards in flyhalf Lionel Cronjé, flank Chris Cloete and centre Luzuko Vulindlu.

A good crowd of 20 000 pitched to see if their team could win three in a row in the competition, and it is interesting to note that much earlier in the season just 3 000 pitched for the visit by the Chiefs. 

But that was before the Kings started creating something special on their overseas tour, starting with a win in Sydney over the Waratahs.

Kings wing Alshaun Bock fields a high ball under pressure from Sharks counterpart Sbu Nkosi, with Kings flank Chris Cloete joining in. Photo: Richard Huggard, BackpagePix

Just two minutes into the game, Cronjé kicked his team ahead after Coenie Oosthuizen had strayed offside.

Then, a pinpoint kick from Cronjé found right wing Alshaun Bock for a try in the corner. It was a Beauden Barrett-style kick-pass and the home side were 8-0 up after as many minutes.

The Sharks were rattled but showed better composure after that helter-skelter opening 10 minutes, and twice good periods of phase play earned penalties for Lambie to goal, calming matters slightly at 8-6.

The Sharks’ territorial advantage continued and Lambie opted for the corner instead of an easy penalty, and the try was well taken off the back of the lineout by Daniel du Preez and the conversion gave the Sharks the lead at 13-8.

Would those 13 points damper the ardour of the home team? Not at all. First the Sharks were shaken by the Lambie accident, then Cronjé nailed a drop goal after a strong Kings scrum.

Garth April was on for Lambie, and it would have settled his nerves when he took a long-range shot at goal instead of going for the corner, and remarkably landed it off the inside of the right-hand upright. 

But the Kings would have the last say in the half when Cronjé dramatically scored with Smith around his neck, thus giving the Kings the half-time lead and the Sharks losing Smith to the sin bin.

Cronjé’s conversion gave his team an 18-16 lead. It could not have been much worse for the visitors. They were two points behind, had a man in the bin and, most disturbingly, Lambie was off.

He did not come out after time, and one wonders if he will be back on a rugby field. 

Matters got even worse for the Sharks when the Kings exploited the extra man with a breakout down the blindside that resulted in a second try for Bock, and Cronjé’s conversion gave the home side a useful 25-16 lead.

The Kings suffered a blow when powerful prop Ross Geldenhuys was yellow-carded and April narrowed the deficit.

Sharks replacement flyhalf Garth April slotted an excellent penalty from well over 50 metres. Photo: Richard Huggard, BackpagePix

The Sharks responded with a fine team try finished by Mvovo, originating from a strong scrum, and April’s conversion regained the lead for his team at 26-25.

A Cronjé penalty put them 28-26 in front with a quarter of the match to go.

The Sharks were fighting for their lives and April put them back in front with just 10 minutes to go at 29-18, and when he kicked another with five minutes remaining, the Kings were four behind. 

But when the Sharks made a hash of the exit from the kickoff, there was an inevitability that the Kings would crown a great performance with a try in the dying minutes, and it came via Pieter-Steyn de Wet, the conversion making it 35-32.

Sunday Tribune

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