Super Rugby / 16 February 2019, 3:33pm / Mike Greenaway
Sharks were commandingly good in sweaty Singapore, overpowering the Sunwolves 45-10 to lay down an early Super Rugby marker.
This opener had “potential ambush” written all over it but that threat was snuffled out early by a well-organised, well-directed Sharks team that is looking encouragingly composed for this stage of the season.
Questions will be asked of the quality of a Sunwolves team that looked less like a product of the Orient and more like a brigade of Colonial expats, and that is exactly why the Sharks had to play a disciplined, structured game, and in the right areas of the field.
They did so on the back of monster forward effort and precision play from halfbacks Louis Schreuder and Robert du Preez.
The latter was supposed to have been rested for this match but an injury to Curwin Bosch in the warm-up against the Bulls meant his break was cut short. Bosch will rue the lost opportunity of a rare start at 10, especially with Du Preez having an exceptional game.
Du Preez’s brother, Dan, was the pick of an impressive pack. The powerful No 8 is clearly out to make a statement to the national selectors that ignored him last season. The irrepressible Akker van der Merwe was another standout forward, as was the industrious opensider Tyler Paul.
The Sunwolves, featuring just two Japanese players in their starting lineup, started brightly enough, with Port Elizabeth-born centre Shane Gates enjoyed a favourable bounce from a punt up field from flyhalf Hayden Parker to score an against-the-run of play try.
And on 15 minutes there was an 80m breakout by Sunwolves wing Semisi Masirewa from his 22 that ultimately culminated on a penalty to his side near the Sharks’ line for Parker to make it 10-3.
The Sharks didn’t panic and when they were awarded a penalty almost from the restart they opted for the corner instead of posts, and were well rewarded when Van der Merwe burrowed over off the back of the lineout drive.
Du Preez, who had kicked an early penalty, nailed the conversion to square it up at 10-10.
On the half hour mark the Sharks kicked another goalible penalty to the corner and it was Dan Du Preez who eventually scrambled over.
If the first two tries were muscular forward efforts, the third was backline beauty. From a planned move off a set scrum in the middle of the field, Schreuder looped round to take the ball in the midfield where his offload put Lukhanyo Am into space, and he neatly freed up Sbu Nkosi for a strong finish in the corner.
The conversion gave the Sharks a solid 24-10 half time led.
Just a few minutes into the second half Am was at it again with his slick hands in creating space out of nothing for Makazole Mapimpi down the blindside. The wing finished well in the corner for the Sharks’ bonus-point try.
The Sharks’ physical advantage began to tell and a long period of frustrated camping in the Sunwolves’ 22 gave way to the Australian referee sin-binning a forward for repeated collapsing of mauls.
And from the penalty kicked to the corner, Van der Merwe duly rumbled over for his second try.
The Sharks backs had the final say when from broken play inter-passing saw replacement centre Jeremy Ward finish off.
Sharks: Tries: Akker van der Merwe (2), Dan du Preez, Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi, Jeremy Ward. Penalty: Robert du Preez. Conversions: Du Preez (5), Rhyno Smith.