The Sharks were put through hell by the Southern Kings before eventually scraping home 19-17 in their Super Rugby match at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.
The Kings were largely expected to be cannon fodder against a home team that has been impressive over the last fortnight.
But the visitors surprised one and all as they put in a plucky performance, hassling and hustling the Sharks throughout as they showed tremendous commitment.
Flyhalf Lionel Cronje had the chance to cap a heroic performance by the underdogs with victory in the 79th minute, but he missed with an angled penalty from 55 metres out.
The Sharks were simply uninspired and made far too many errors in a blustery wind, perhaps guilty of being over-ambitious in the early stages of the game, throwing long passes around which were simply not precise enough.
It allowed the Kings to spend much of the game in their faces and slowing down their ball in the rucks.
The Sharks opened the scoring in the third minute with a penalty by fullback Curwin Bosch, after Cronje had fluffed an up-and-under from scrumhalf Cobus Reinach.
But the Sharks battled for any fluidity in the backs in the first half, with neither experienced scrumhalf Cobus Reinach nor debutant 20-year-old flyhalf Benhard Janse van Rensburg seemingly in charge.
Janse van Rensburg had a kick charged down by lock Ruaan Lerm, who followed up to score, Cronje converting to give the Kings a 7-3 lead.
The Sharks were back in front six minutes later with Kings prop Ross Geldenhuys in the cooler after illegally slowing down ball inside his own 22, the Sharks managing to set a good driving maul from the penalty and under-rated prop Lourens Adriaanse scoring his first Super Rugby try in his 80th game.
But they continued to make handling errors in conditions that were not conducive to free-flowing rugby, wing Makazole Mapimpi gratefully accepting the loose ball after lock Ruan Botha had tried a speculative pass over the top, and racing away to put the Kings 14-8 up.
Coach Robert du Preez did not make changes at the break, but when the starting XV’s chemistry was still clearly not working early in the second half, he made a host of substitutions.
Most crucially, he changed his half-backs, with veteran scrumhalf Michael Claassens coming on and sparking something of a resurgence for the Sharks.
Replacement flyhalf Garth April was also far more involved.
The scrums had been a stop-start affair for the Sharks in the first half, but they started the second half well in that set-piece, earning a penalty for Bosch to close the gap to 11-14.
The Kings had disrupted the Sharks in both scrums and lineouts in the first half and, when the home side stole a throw-in in the 46th minute, they were called for playing the man in the air and Cronje landed the penalty and stretched the lead back to 17-11.
Only in the final quarter did the Durbanites make their move.
Claassens made ground with a quick tap-penalty and wing Kobus van Wyk then took a long pass from April to score in the corner and close the gap to just one point.
The outstanding Kings flank Chris Cloete, never far from the action and always seemingly in the way, was yellow-carded at the same time, harshly when one considers the infringements the Sharks got away with around the same time.
The tide was turning for the Sharks and they won a couple of crucial scrum penalties on the Kings’ own ball, Bosch slotting the match-winning kick from just inside the opposition half.
Point scorers: Sharks 19 (8) – Tries: Lourens Adriaanse, Kobus van Wyk. Penalties: Curwin Bosch (3). Southern Kings 17 (14) – Tries: Ruaan Lerm, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Lionel Cronje (2). Penalty: Cronje.
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