Sharks too strong for Lions
The Sharks returned to the top of the Super Rugby table after securing a hard-fought 37-23 victory over the Lions in Durban on Saturday.
Jake White's troops, like their two previous matches, dominated early on in most facets of play but they took their foot off the pedal midway through the second half and had to wait until the closing stages of the match before they secured their try-scoring bonus-point thanks to Marcell Coetzee, who barged over from the back of a driving maul.
The home side were forced to make a change to their starting line-up, shortly before kick-off, when first-choice fly-half Patrick Lambie was forced to withdraw after contracting tick fever.
That meant that regular inside centre Frans Steyn moved to the pivot position while Heimar Williams came off the bench to wear the number 12 jersey.
Lambie was hardly missed and Steyn thrived with the extra responsibilty, contributing 17 points in the victory via three penalites and four conversions.
The Sharks' dominance was rewarded as early as the eighth minute when Paul Jordaan crossed for the game's opening try, after the groundwork was laid by Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo in the build-up.
Alberts won a crucial turnover at a ruck 15 metres inside the Lions' half and the ball was spread wide to Mvovo, who set off on a blistering run down the touchline.
The Springbok speedster still had work to do and he had the presence of mind to chip ahead as the cover defence closed in. The ball bounced kindly for Jordaan, who gathered before cutting infield to score.
Steyn added the extras and he also succeeded with three penalties with his third attempt, a monster effort from just inside his half, delighting the Kings Park faithful.
The Lions stayed in touch thanks to the goal-kicking of Marnitz Boshoff, who landed three penalties during the opening half, but that was the only way the men from Johannesburg managed to score points during the opening period as they hardly ventured into the Sharks' half.
The home side went into the break 23-9 up thanks to a moment of brilliance from Cobus Reinach, who scored a superb try after pouncing on a loose ball at aline-out in the Lions' 22.
Reinach slipped past two defenders and Chrysander Botha with a deft side-step before scoring.
The second half came alive in the 50th minute when Odwa Ndungane rounded off in the corner after gathering a pass inside the Lions 22 from Coetzee, who was put in the clear by a fine offload from Steyn.
As is the norm in the modern game, several substitutions were then made, on both sides, and while the Lions' performance improved the opposite was true of the Sharks.
The visitors launched a fightback and thanks to two well-taken tries from Faf De Klerk and Deon van Rensburg, they narrowed the gap to 30-23 by the 68th minute.
De Klerk got the Lions' first five-pointer, when he sold the defence a dummy before barging over from close quarters in the 63rd minute and five minutes later Van Rensburg gathered a grubber kick from Boshoff - who moved from full-back to replace Elton Jantjies at fly-half - deep inside the Sharks' half before crossing the whitewash.
This seemed to galvanise the Sharks, who tried desperately to gain maximum points from the encounter, and Coetzee was the hero when he scored the all-important fourth try which Steyn converted to give him a perfect goal-kicking record for the match.
Tries: Jordaan, Reinach, Ndungane, Coetzee
Cons: Steyn 4
Pens: Steyn 3
Yellow card: Kankowski (64th minute, side entry at a ruck)
Try: De Klerk, Van Rensburg
Cons: Boshoff 2
Pens: Boshoff 3
Yellow card: Fourie (75th minute, slowing the ball down illegally at a ruck)
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (capt), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 S'bura Sithole.
Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Chrysander Botha, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 JW Jonker, 23 Coenie van Wyk.
Referee: Jaco Peyper