The Sharks’ tradition of enjoying the sights of New Zealand continued as they strode to a handsome 42-20 win over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday morning.
Sean Everitt’s charges channelled Rassie Erasmus’ Bok template, focusing on intense linespeed on defence, making sure of their set-pieces and forcing mistakes from which they could ruthlessly pounce.
It was an excellent performance that also provides ammunition again for a more national style of play to be adopted by all the local franchises.
Who was the star in this match?
Various players delivered eye-catching showings, with Highlanders No 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u impressing as ball-carrier and attacking nuisance, while his Sharks counterpart Sikhumbuzo Notshe was outstanding in the first half with his off-loading and link play. Centre Andre Esterhuizen also put in some monster hits and fullback Aphelele Fassi was everywhere. Yet the impact of James Venter has been dramatic. The former Lions player has already flourished as fetcher. After providing superb support to score the opening try, he added two turnovers and completed an immense 16 tackles.
Key moments and themes
- Even if the opening quarter was generally characterised by both sides’ inaccuracy at the breakdown and that of their tactical kicking. Yet the Sharks steadily made certain of disrupting their opponents’ set-pieces, got their linespeed on defence right and started feasting on the counterattack. That would signal the defining period of the game.
- Within ten first half minutes, the Durbanites scored three magnificent tries. Venter ran a great line after wing Madosh Tambwe won an aerial ball, before Notshe threw to stupendous backhand passes to set up the flying Makazole Mapimpi’s brace. The Bok winger’s second is certainly an early contender for try of the season. Tambwe’s thumping tackle on Tima Fainga’anuku led to another turnover into Notshe’s hands, who ran a great line, found Tambwe with a proverbial Sonny Bill, who timed his scoring pass well. It was sumptuous stuff.
An early contender for one of the tries of the season ???? pic.twitter.com/IgxotQ3ie4
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) February 7, 2020
- The Highlanders came back strongly in the second half as the Sharks’ Achilles heel in this match – their penalty count – came back to haunt them. They eventually conceded 15, allowing the hosts a substantial amount of territory. And Kiwi sides invariably take advantage in such situations. There was also the suspicion that coach Everitt perhaps erred in keeping his starting pack on for too long, but it didn’t prove too costly.
- To illustrate the fine margins in this competition, the Sharks had a defensive scrum in the final minutes, launched a monster shove from nowhere to win territory and the following sequences of play led to Fassi’s clincher. To rub salt in the wound, the precocious 21-year-old also pounced on another stray pass at the death. It was ruthless.
Highlanders – Tries: Dillon Hunt, Jona Nareki, Michael Collins. Conversion: Mitch Hunt. Penalty: Mitch Hunt.
Sharks – Tries: Makazole Mapimpi (2), James Venter, Aphelele Fassi (2). Conversions: Curwin Bosch (4). Penalties: Curwin Bosch (3).