Sharks hang on in Kings Park arm-wrestle
MATCH REPORT: The Sharks cemented their top-eight position and kept their top-four dream, alive with a hard-earned win over a determined Leinster at a wet Kings Park on Saturday.
Despite trailing 7-17 late in the first half, the home side dominated large swathes of the second half and held on if the face of a late rally to record a crucial 28-23 win over the table-topping Irish province.
The match also produced a number of talking points, especially the Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli’s leniency towards the Irish team and repeated warnings with only two yellow cards will come up in the post-match analysis,
* To recap all the drama, CLICK HERE!
The result means the Sharks denied Leinster an opportunity to wrap up the top spot in the URC with two games to spare.
Leo Cullen’s men came into the fixture with an eight-point advantage over the closest challengers the Stormers and extending that margin beyond 10 would have been enough to earn the top seeding ahead of the play-offs and clinch the Irish Shield.
However, the visitors had to make do with a losing bonus point in Durban, after a late onslaught failed to deliver the winning try.
Scott Penny and Tommy O’Brien had crossed for Leinster in the first half, although the tries were cancelled out by Makazole Mapimpi and Jaden Hendrikse respectively, with the visitors holding a 17-14 lead at half-time.
The Sharks kicked on in the second half with scores from Mbongeni Mbonambi and Phendulani Buthelezi as Leinster paid the price for a pair of yellow cards.
Curwin Bosch missed a couple of early penalties, before Penny burrowed over for the game’s opening try in the 17th minute, converted by Ciaran Frawley.
The Sharks responded almost immediately through Mapimpi’s interception try and Bosch found his kicking boots to open his account with the conversion.
A Frawley penalty nudged Leinster back in front, before O’Brien’s touchdown put daylight between the sides.
O’Brien stepped inside Aphelele Fassi’s attempted tackle and outpaced Werner Kok to race over, with Frawley adding the extras.
Having failed to halt O’Brien moments earlier, Fassi was the architect as the Sharks reduced the deficit to three in the closing stages of the half, splitting the defence open and feeding Hendrikse to run for home.
Frawley kicked a penalty early in the second half as the rain grew heavier, but the Sharks had the lead after Mbonambi touched down from the back of a driving maul. Bosch converted despite the ball persistently slipping from the tee due to the weather, making it 21-20.
The advantage lasted only two minutes thanks to another Frawley penalty but Leinster quickly lost Josh Murphy to the sin bin and was temporarily down to 13 when debutant hooker Lee Barron saw yellow shortly after the hour.
The Sharks made their man advantage count after Murphy’s return, with Buthelezi barging his way over from a maul after an extended period of pressure and Bosch converting.
The Sharks then had Kerron van Vuuren sin-binned as they desperately defended their lead late on but Leinster were held up over the line with their last chance to clinch victory.
Man of the Match
Mbonambi scooped the individual prize for his performance in the Sharks’ front row in challenging conditions.
The home hooker capped his performance with the hosts’ third try.
Play of the match
O’Brien’s touchdown was one of the more eye-catching moments of the match.
He evaded Fassi’s attempted tackle before sprinting for the line, keeping Sharks speedster Kok at bay in the process – no mean feat.
For the Sharks
Tries: Mapimpi, Hendrikse, Mbonambi, Buthelezi
Cons: Bosch 4
Tries: Penny, O’Brien
Cons: Frawley 2
Pens: Frawley 3
Yellow cards: Josh Murphy (Leinster, 54 – repeated infringements, playing an opponent in the air), Lee Barron (Leinster, 62 – repeated infringements, in at the side of a maul), Kerron van Vuuren (Sharks, 80+ – repeated infringements, offside)
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phendulani Buthelezi, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Thomas du Toit (captain), 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Jeandré Labuschagne, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Henry Chamberlain.
Leinster: 15 Chris Cosgrave 14 Tommy O’Brien, 13 Jamie Osborne, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 Rory O’Loughlin, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Nick McCarthy, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny, 6 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 5 Jack Dunne, 4 Brian Deeny, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Lee Barron, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Josh Murphy, 20 Alex Soroka, 21 Cormac Foley, 22 David Hawkshaw, 23 Martin Moloney.
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant referees: AM Jacobs (South Africa), Stephan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial
* Picture credit: Wayne Seagreen