CAPE TOWN – The Sharks scraped home by the skin of their teeth in a 24-17 win over the Stormers in their Super Rugby derby in Durban on Saturday evening.
Given their overwhelming territorial and possession advantage, the Sharks’ victory was well deserved and in the end, but they only just managed to stave off the Stormers’ match-saving efforts at the death.
Play was scrappy at the outset, with the Sharks just about shading the Stormers in most facets of play.
This was the trend for most of the first half as the Sharks enjoyed a decided territorial advantage which they were not able to exploit, mainly as a result of their own shortcomings.
Sharks flyhalf Robert du Preez gave his side a 17th-minute lead with his second attempt at goal, and fullback Curwin Bosch should have doubled the lead moments later, but was fractionally wide of the mark from the kicking tee.
Up to that stage, the Stormers’ tactical kicking was rank poor, although left wing Raymond Rhule landed a huge touch-finder in the 24th minute.
In stark contrast, the Sharks’ up-field kicks proved vastly troublesome, although the Stormers scrambled well to avert danger.
Just ahead of the half-hour mark, the Stormers made a rare appearance in Sharks territory, where they were awarded a penalty in a kickable position.
They opted for touch and a lineout, but nothing came of the ploy as a succession of pick-and-go drives ended with the ball being turned over under the Sharks’ posts.
Two minutes ahead of the break, the Stormers counter-attacked after turning the ball over inside their own half.
Once the ball was relayed with a few passes to flank Siya Kolisi, the move picked up momentum as he stormed down the wide channel.
Rhule was up in support to take the scoring pass, and he cantered in under the posts for the first try of the match.
Flyhalf Damian Willemse converted to give the Stormers a 7-3 advantage at the break.
The spectators had hardly taken their seats for second-half action when the Sharks ran in their first try.
Centre Lukhanyo Am and left wing Makazole Mapimpi worked in tandem to breach the Stormers’ defence, before the latter dived over.
Robert du Preez’s conversion allowed the Sharks to nose ahead 10-7.
The Sharks’ lead was short-lived as the Cape visitors produced a 10-point scoring burst via a Willemse penalty and a converted try by hooker Ramone Samuels in the 52nd minute to hand them a 17-10 advantage.
The Sharks came within a whisker of responding moments later with a try, but the TMO-referred effort showed that right wing Sbu Nkosi lost the ball a fraction away from the whitewash.
Dewaldt Duvenage, the Stormers scrumhalf, was yellow-carded in the 58th minute for a deliberate knockdown, and it was only a matter of time before the Sharks were able to exploit the one-man advantage.
Robert du Preez and his brother Jean-Luc du Preez combined well to finish a strong surge with a converted try to level the scores at 17-17.
The Sharks continued to pile on the pressure, and the Stormers defence finally cracked again in the 73rd minute when prop Thomas du Toit was well in support of replacement hooker Akker van der Merwe’s offload to add the finishing touch to his side’s third try.
Robert du Preez’s conversion gave what appeared to be a match-winning 24-17 lead, with time running out.
And so it turned out to be as the Sharks looked after their seven-point lead, although the Stormers had an attacking five-metre lineout and a subsequent maul to launch a match-saving move.
Sharks 24 – Tries: Lukhanyo Am, Jean-Luc du Preez, Thomas du Toit. Conversions: Robert du Preez (3). Penalty: Robert du Preez (1).
Stormers 17 – Tries: Raymond Rhule, Ramone Samuels. Conversions: Damian Willemse (2). Penalty: Willemse (1).
African News Agency (ANA)