Sharks captain Philip van der Walt (left) and centre Johan Deysel hold on to Stormers wing Seabelo Senatla for dear life. Photo: Gerhard Duraan, BackpagePix
DURBAN – It took the Sharks-Stormers South African derby a while to ignite, but when it did there were fireworks aplenty, even if most of it was in bone-shaking defence.

And it was in this department that the home team slightly overshadowed their opponents to record a vital 22-10 win on Saturday night for the Sharks’ confidence going forward in Super Rugby.

It was a game in which the Stormers did not seem to have pitched up for work in the opening 20 minutes while the Sharks exploded out of the blocks, and possibly the difference ultimately between the sides was the halftime score of 15-0.

The Sharks had taken their opportunities in the opening quarter and in the second quarter of that half, the Stormers, who had finally woken up, did not. The Stormers had try-scoring chances, but could not nail any of them.

The Sharks had heroes aplenty in this game, not the least of which is the new wing sensation Sbu Nkosi, the 2016 SA Under-20 wing who scored the game-breaking try with about 15 minutes to go and at a time when the Stormers themselves had just scored and threatened to seize the momentum.

Nkosi scored after taking a pass from a lineout on the halfway line and raced 45m for a memorable try.

Speaking of lineouts, the Sharks started the game as the best lineout exponents in the competition, and they emerged with their reputation enhanced. Ruan Botha, a former Western Province man, dominated his illustrious Springbok opponents Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Etienne Oosthuizen and Eben Etzebeth battle for lineout possession. Photo: Gerhard Duraan, BackpagePix

This Sharks side were clearly in the mood for business. The players had a number of pans on the fire, and coach Robert du Preez had been stoking the coals all week.

For a start – and most significantly – the Sharks had more to play more for in terms of the competition given that log points no longer matter to the Stormers in an Africa Conference 1 which is so poor that the Bulls have still been in contention for the playoffs.

The Sharks, though, were desperate to win yesterday, and then also their two remaining games – derbies against the Bulls and the Lions – to finish as high on the overall log as possible and thus possibly eliminate a playoff in Christchurch against the Crusaders, the alternative probably being a more attractive trip to the Lions at Ellis Park.

The Sharks, too, have been desperate to get their attacking game better polished. 

They have been trying to run the ball all season, but their conversion rate of entries into the 22 into points has been very poor, mostly because of elementary errors preventing the attack from getting the cherry on the cake.

They got that right last night.

Also, a number of Sharks players felt aggrieved at being left out of either the SA A and Springbok squads that were announced last week.

Among those who felt they could have earned higher honours were the Du Preez twins, flank Philip van der Walt, locks Stephan Lewies and Etienne Oosthuizen, wing Kobus van Wyk and probably more than anyone, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach.

He may be going to Northampton later in the season, but he nevertheless wanted to prove that he is still the best scrumhalf in South Africa.

Cobus Reinach had a busy game for the Sharks after being left out of the Springbok squad. Photo: Gerhard Duraan, BackpagePix

In the fifth minute the Sharks dominated a set scrum and earned a penalty and there was no thought of kicking it for the corner, with Garth April duly taking the three points on offer.

The Sharks went further ahead when centre Johan Deysel finished off a slick team build-up.

The Sharks then absorbed all of the Stormers pressure and then broke out to score a vital try just before halftime. 

The Sharks had earned a penalty in the Stormers’ 22 and the defenders were caught off-guard when the determined Reinach took a quick tap penalty to set up a ruck, from which Stephan Lewies charged over the line. The conversion gave the Sharks a handy 15-0 lead.

The Stormers scored first after halftime through a penalty by SP Marais.

They had a noticeable increase in urgency in the second half, and in the third quarter, the Sharks did most of the defending and there was an inevitably about a try by Marais that came from a quick tap by Jano Vermaak.

Then came Nkosi’s moment of magic, and while the Stormers did the attacking for the rest of the game, one opportunity was lost after another.

Sunday Tribune

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