Sharks hit half ton against Sunwolves
Gavin Rich
March 10, 2018

After two games where they struggled to properly engage top gear the Cell C Sharks would have felt they finally got off the mark in their Vodacom Super Rugby campaign as they comfortably outplayed the Sunwolves 50-22 at Jonnson Kings Park on Saturday.

With the tour of Australasia effectively starting on Sunday with the squad’s departure from King Shaka International Airport, a solid performance and comfortable win would have been what coach Robert du Preez would have asked for from his charges. He got what he asked for, with Ruan Botha’s men winning comfortably and claiming their try scoring bonus point in the process.

The Sharks scored seven tries to three and by halftime they already had the game effectively wrapped up as they led 24-3. There was a point in the first half when it didn’t look like it would be that easy.

For a long period the Sunwolves camped in the Sharks’ red zone and on one occasion charged down Sharks clearances three times in quick succession only to butcher their attempt to cross an open tryline by spilling the ball. They also crossed the line in the second half and had the try disallowed.

It was another stiflingly humid Durban February afternoon and that might explain why the Sharks drifted in and out of the game at times. However, after the Japanese team had finally managed to make their territorial dominance count by kicking a penalty to make it 10-3, it was the Sharks’ 2017 import from the Lions, Akker van der Merwe, who effectively ignited both the Sharks team and a slumbering crowd.

His charge down the right touchline, brushing off several would-be tacklers on a more than 40 metre run, was the sort of spectacular moment in a game that can help bring fans back to the stadium. With Robert du Preez junior enjoying a mostly successful afternoon with his place-kicking boot, the conversion from the left touchline put the Sharks into a 17-3 lead. He only missed one kick at posts in seven attempts.

Du Preez had earlier been on target with his first conversion from the left touchline after Makazole Mapimpi had crossed in the 10th minute to add to an early Du Preez penalty and take the team into a 10-0 lead. Mapimpi was to score a spectacular try as he used his pace to round opponents on a 30 metre dash in the second half, but his first try was really set up by the excellent running and support play of the players inside him.

Andre Esterhuizen was the man who started the multi-phase attack with an incisive break from near halfway and when the ball was eventually flung wide to Mapimpi there was no-one standing in front of him and open line just waiting to be crossed.

The other Sharks centre, Lukhanyo Am, featured in the third Sharks try, the last of the half, with the hosts turning in some quite impressive off-loading and support play in the process of setting up No 8 Tera Mtembu for the score.

There was a stamp of class about some of the Sharks’ attacking and their off-loading game is starting to show signs of promise. This was never more evident than in the 54th minute try that was set up for flanker Jacques Vermeulen. Four minutes before that Mapimpi had used his pace to round the Sunwolves defence, so it meant that with 26 minutes to play, the Sharks were 36-15 up.

Most aspects of the Sharks’ play were solid, and there was some great interplay at times between backs and forwards. Tougher obstacles lie ahead, but coach Du Preez should feel his plan to test his depth came off and left himself with a bit of an overnight headache as he prepares to name his 27-man squad for the three match tour of Australia and New Zealand.

As he deliberates he will reflect on a performance that wasn’t always perfect but gave him what he asked for.


Cell C Sharks 50 - Tries: Makazole Mapimpi 2, Akker van der Merwe, Tera Mtembu, Jacques Vermeulen, Sbu Nkosi and Cameron Wright; Conversions: Robert du Preez 5 and Curwin Bosch; Penalty: Robert du Preez.

Sunwolves 22 - Tries: Lemeki Lomano, Wimpie van der Walt and William Tupuo; Conversions: Kotaro Matsushima and Ryoto Nakamura; Penalty: Harumichi Tatekawa.

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