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By Athenkosi Tsotsi

Sports Reporter


Sharks edge Edinburgh to qualify for last four of the Challenge Cup

The Sharks became the first South African team to reach the last four of the Challenge Cup.


The Sharks negotiated their way to the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup thanks to a 36-30 win over Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon at Durban’s King’s Park Stadium.

The result means the Sharks’ goal of winning the Challenge Cup and essentially returning to the Champions Cup is still on the cards.

John Plumtree’s charges also made history with the win; they became the first South African team to reach the last four of the Challenge Cup.

The attendance at King’s Park was at a low of 11,894, once again showing that SA fans have not warmed up to the European competitions.

It was another well-rounded performance from the Sharks as they have now won four games in a row.

Early kick-off blues

The early 1.30pm kick-off seemed to have some knock-on effect on the Sharks; they did not start the game with the same intensity and authority they showed in their three previous games. Although they were robust in the contact battles and the scrums, and they also had territorial dominance, they did not have points to show for it.

They entered Edinburgh’s 22m multiple times in the opening 15 minutes but did not make any progress as Sean Everitt’s side fronted up well when questions were asked. Instead, it was the visitors who were leading 6-0 thanks to penalty goals by flyhalf Ben Healy.

The Sharks finally got on the scoreboard via a Lukhanyo Am converted try. He was able to dot down after Makazole Mapimpi passed the ball to him on the inside after making his way through the Edinburgh defence. The home side then added another converted try via James Venter, who was at the end of a lovely team move.

Edinburgh on top

Credit must be given to Edinburgh as they tested the Sharks and put them under a lot of pressure, building momentum from their lack of discipline. When under pressure the Sharks’ defence showed grit and determination but it would be breached when Eben Etzebeth was sent to the sin bin in the final 10 minutes of the half.

After Etzebeth got a yellow card for foul play in the lineout, Scottish prop Pierre Schoeman got a converted try and Healy added another three points to see Edinburgh lead 16-14 at the half time.

Back to 15 men for the start of the second half, the Sharks started like a house on fire. The home side set the tone for the half through their Springboks front row of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, and Vincent Koch dominating scrum engagements. The Sharks’ forwards put the team on the front foot and gave them momentum.

Sharks building scoreboard pressure

The side from Durban made their dominance count thanks to flyhalf Siya Masuku’s two penalty goals, making the score 20-16 after 52 minutes.

The away side was suffocating as the Sharks were all over them, smelling blood. A third try came for the Sharks through Mbonambi who broke away from a driving maul; Masuku got the extra two points taking the lead to 27-16.

The Sharks upped the ante in attack and defence; they never let their guard down after establishing a two-score lead. They managed the game well after the hour mark, stopping Edinburgh from making any ground.

They kept the scoreboard ticking with another two Masuku penalties, ensuring the Sharks lead 33-16 in the final 10 minutes.

A little too late

Edinburgh made the ending of the match a nervy one for the Sharks after Hamish Watson scored a converted try to close the gap to 10 with five minutes remaining. The Sharks added to their score with a Curwin Bosch penalty, though another converted score for Edinburgh through Dave Cherry made it a close game but it was not enough as the Sharks won 36-30.

Scorers

Sharks: Tries – Lukhanyo Am, James Venter, Bongi Mbonambi ; Conversions – Siya Masuku (3) ; Penalties – Masuku (3), Curwin Bosch

Edinburgh: Tries – Pierre Schoeman, Hamish Watson, Dave Cherry ; Conversions – Ben Healy (3) ; Penalties – Healy (3)

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