Sharks XV hang on in Nelspruit
The Sharks XV hung on for a hard-fought 29-27 (halftime 17-17) win over the Pumas in the teams’ final Vodacom Cup round-robin match played at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Friday night.
The home side, playing in front of around 1 000 spectators -- many of whom were shouting for the men in black and white -- looked on course for a good win when they were awarded a penalty try that gave them a 27-24 lead with 19 minutes remaining.
But it proved to be the last time the Pumas would trouble the scorers, and they had to watch on as Sharks wing Sibusiso Sithole dotted down in the 69th minute for a try that eventually separated the teams by the slender margin of two points.
Replacement Pumas flyhalf Tiaan Marx had a chance to win the game for his team but he missed a 76th-minute penalty that would have made him the hero of the night.
In a match played at a cracking pace between two sets of well-matched forward packs, it was the home side who enjoyed 60 per cent of the possession.
But it’s one thing to have the ball and quite another to do something with it, and it was the visitors who struck first through a try by fullback Gouws Prinsloo, who would finish with a personal haul of 14 points.
Sharks scrumhalf Conrad Hoffmann then made it 14-0 with a converted try in the 19th minute to give the travelling supporters plenty to shout about.
But the Pumas responded almost immediately when from a powerful forward drive it was skipper Corné Steenkamp who barged over for flyhalf Coenie van Wyk to convert.
The home side were at it again 12 minutes later, centre JW Jonker darting over for Van Wyk to add the conversion to his earlier penalty to give the Pumas a 17-14 lead.
Prinsloo banged over a penalty for the Sharks on the stroke of halftime, cancelled out by Marx shortly after the restart to make it 20-17.
The visitors regained the initiative when centre Jerome Pretorius scored with half an hour remaining, converted by Prinsloo.
Steenkamp looked to have scored his second on the hour mark, but referee Quinton Immelman instead trotted across to the posts to award a penalty try after a Sharks indiscretion.
But it wasn’t enough, and Sithole’s final score was enough to ensure that both teams would be watching with much interest the results of Saturday’s matches to see where they will be playing their quarterfinals.
Apart from Marx’s missed kick, the Pumas twice kicked for the corner in an attempt to score a try, but on both occasions they were denied by some sterling defence from the men from Durban.
For the Pumas, eighthman Doppies le Roux played a blinder, while Sharks lock Jandré Marais and left wing Rosko Specman caught the eye on a number of occasions.
The Sharks’ win leaves them second in the South section of the competition, with only third-placed Western Province, who play the Leopards in Potchefstroom on Saturday, able to overtake them.
The Pumas are also assured of a playoff spot. They are currently in third place with only the defending champion Blue Bulls, who host SWD on Saturday, able to overtake the men from Mpumalanga.
Pumas 27 – Tries: Corné Steenkamp, JW Jonker, penalty try. Conversions: Coenie van Wyk (2), Tiaan Marx. Penalties: Van Wyk, Marx.
Sharks XV 29 – Tries: Gouws Prinsloo, Conrad Hoffmann, Jerome Pretorius, Sibusiso Sithole. Conversions: Prinsloo (3). Penalty: Prinsloo.