Sharks storm back to bury hoodoo
They will be toasting 19-year-old Patrick Lambie down in Sharks country following the two try burst that secured his team an exciting come from behind 25-13 win over the Cheetahs at their hoodoo ground of Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The scoreline did not reflect it, for in the end there was more than a converted try between the two teams, but in many ways the Sharks dished out the same medicine to the Cheetahs that the home team themselves dealt to the Bulls at Loftus the previous week.
Last Saturday it was the Cheetahs who came back from the dead to win the game with a conversion on the hooter. This time they might feel they butchered it after they were up 13-6 with nine minutes to go, and somehow conspired to lose by 12 points.
The Sharks had struggled to get their rythmn going and gain momentum in the first 70 minutes, as reflected by the fact they only scored six points in that time. Tewis de Bruyn had scored an opportunistic first-half try for the Cheetahs by cleverly getting across the gainline and then through a clutch of Sharks tight-forwards to give them a 10-3 half-time lead.
Both kickers missed shots at goal, but Louis Strydom added a conversion and a penalty before kicking another three pointer after half time to make it 13-3 with 36 minutes to go. However, whereas in the first period the Sharks struggled to control possession and thoughout the match struggled in the set-scrums, where they conceded several penalties, after half-time they enjoyed much more of the game.
Their new-found assertiveness nearly netted a try soon after half time as they surged towards the Cheetahs line, only some unlucky bounces preventing them from nailing down the score with the aid of some at times sloppy handling.
Juan Smith and Ashley Johnson were outstanding for the Cheetahs, and No 8 Johnson might well have picked up the man of the match award had it not been for Lambie’s heroics in the last 10 minutes. Smith’s departure from the field not long after a clash of heads with Sharks lock Ross Skeate on one side and a Cheetahs teammate on the other was a significant moment, particularly as it coincided with the arrival on the field of Jean Deysel.
The big ball-hugging flanker is an important cog in the Sharks machine when he is there, and when he came onto the field it was his first cap of the new Currie Cup season after missing the first few games after minor surgery.
Deysel wasted no time in displaying just why he is so important by showing up well as a ball carrier when his team needed him, and his presence appeared to open the way for Ryan Kankowski to become his usual rangy self again from No 8.
Kankowski nearly dotted down for the Sharks in the 52nd minute, but was adjudged to have knocked the ball on as he dotted down. The Sharks might have thought they had lost the opportunity, and should have been frustrated by the manful Cheetahs defence that put hearts and bodies on the line in resisting wave after wave of Sharks onslaught later in the game.
The post-match statistics will reflect that the Cheetahs were unlucky to lose, as they enjoyed the bulk of the possession. What they will regret though was their inability to nail down their much more significant advantage in the first half, while a decision not to kick at goal when they were in a good position to do so from a penalty in the second half also came back to haunt them.
At the time a successful kick would have put them 10 points ahead and perhaps the Sharks would have found that more of a psychological mountain than the seven they were left with.
So back to Lambie. The young player who is still new to centre after being retreaded from fullback shook his head in disappointment when he missed the conversion that would have given his team a share of the spoils with eight minutes to go.
Certainly the Sharks coaching duo of John Plumtree and Grant Bashford looked crestfallen as they watched from the box, although they would not have been too upset for Lambie as he had played a major part in the try as it was his excellent pass through the tackle that sent prop Eugene van Staden in for the try.
The move that led to the score had started with a big bash from Deysel, but Kankowski was even more prominent in the try that four minutes later put the Sharks into the lead for the first time.
The Cheetahs were pressing hard for what would have been the coup de grace, but the ball went loose, the Sharks opted to run from their own line, and the athletic Kankowski found himself in the clear. There was then some clever interplay with wing Lwazi Mvovo when Kankowski eventually looked likely to be halted, with Kankowski taking the return pass up to metres from the line, from where the ball came free for Lambie to surge forward, reach out and score.
This time there was no mistake with the conversion, and he was again on target when two minutes from time he added his second try after getting a pass over the top from Keegan Daniels at the end of another impressive break-out in which Mvovo again featured prominently.
From looking likely winners, the Cheetahs suddenly found themselves without even a bonus point. Their efforts deserved a point at least, but the Sharks won’t be complaining as they ensure that they end the weekend safely ensconced behind Western Province in second position on the log.
Sharks – Tries: Patrick Lambie 2 and Eugene van Staden; Conversions: Patrick Lambie 2; Penalties: Patrick Lambie 2.
Cheetahs – Try: Tewis de Bruyn; Conversion: Louis Strydom; Penalties: Louis Strydom 2.