Cape Town - The Sharks are the new Currie Cup log leaders after they outplayed an inexperienced Free State Cheetahs team 45-15 in an entertaining match at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.
The Sharks scored seven tries in their bonus point win to record their sixth consecutive victory in the competition. In the process they overtook their opponents at the top of the table who were forced to field a weakened team after their senior squad played their first match in the PRO14 competition against Ulster in Belfast on Friday night.
Although the Sharks eventually won handily, the Free State youngsters began brightly with the home team unable to get their hands on the ball in the opening minutes.
When the Sharks did get into the Cheetahs’ half, they made it count, however, with Lukhanyo Am diving over in the right-hand corner after nine minutes following some excellent interpassing by the Sharks’ backs and forwards.
Nevertheless, the Cheetahs more than held their own in the first quarter with flyhalf Ryno Eksteen converting a penalty to restrict the men in black and white to a narrow 5-3 lead.
That was as good as it got for the visitors, however, with the Sharks finally clicking into gear as they ran in another three tries - and a bonus point - before half-time.
A feature of the Sharks’ play was their off-loading and quick hands through the ball as they tried to spread the ball wide at almost every opportunity. While this tactic led to a number of handling errors, it also enabled prop Johnny Meyer, fullback Inny Radebe and scrumhalf Louis Schreuder to cross the whitewash before the turnaround.
The Sharks continued to dominate in the second half, with man of the match Sibusiso Nkosi contributing a brace of tries while debutant centre Marius Louw scored with his first touch after coming on midway through the half. Flank Keegan Daniel, whose 114 caps for the Sharks was more than the total number of caps of the opposition, was particularly impressive in his linking play.
The young Cheetahs, with many of their number making their Currie Cup debuts, never let their heads drop, however, with flank Daniel Maartens particularly impressive in the loose, and they thoroughly deserved their two late tries from Marco Mason and Luther Obi as the game inevitably opened up and became looser.
Tries: Lukhanyo Am, Johnny Meyer, Inny Radebe, Louis Schreuder, Marius Louw, Sibusiso Nkosi (2)
Conversions: Inny Radebe (3), Garth April (2)
Tries: Marco Mason, Luther Obi
Conversion: Marco Mason
Penalty: Ryno Eksteen
Inny Radebe, 14 Tythan Adams, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Lukhanyo Am, 11 S’bu
Nkosi, 10 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7
Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler
Paul, 3 John-Hubert Meyer, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Thomas du Toit
16 Franco Marais, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Jean Droste, 19 Wian Vosloo, 20
Michael Claassens, 21 Marius Louw, 22 Garth April
Free State Cheetahs
Reinhardt Erwee, 14 Carel-Jan Coetzee, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Stephan Janse
van Rensburg, 11 Luther Obi, 10 Ryno Eksteen, 9 JP Smith, 8 Jasper
Wiese, 7 Chris Dry (captain), 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Dennis Visser, 4
Nicolaas Immelman, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Gert Kotze
16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Andrew Kuhn, 18 Sibabalo Qoma, 19 Ntokoza
Vidima, 20 Daniel Maartens, 21 Dian Badenhorst, 22 Marco Mason