Sharks survive Zebre scare
MATCH REPORT: The Sharks managed to hold on for a nailbiting 42-37 United Rugby Championship win over Zebre in Parma on Friday.
While the Sharks got a full five points from their opening match of the season, it was only a silly penalty conceded by Juan Pitinari that saved them from an embarrassing loss.
It was a game of two halves – with the Sharks in control; for the first 40 minutes and Zebre coming back in sensational style after the break.
* To recap the drama, CLICK HERE!
From trailing 3-28 at on the half-hour mark, the home team clawed their way back into the game – narrowing the gap to 22-31 with a three-try blitz in the first 10 minutes after the break.
A James Venter try temporarily stemmed the tide, before tries by Gabriele Venditti and Jacopo Trulla brought the Italian team back to within one score.
From the restart, Juan Pitinari committed an obstruction – rubbing out a try by Franco Smith, which may well have been a match-winner.
Boeta Chamberlain’s penalty suddenly stretched the lead back to eight points.
Tiff Eden kicked a penalty straight after the restart to keep his team alive, but the Sharks held on for a fortuitous win.
It was another spirited fightback from Zebre.
The Italians pushed Leinster all the way in a 29-33 loss last weekend – having trailed 10-28 at the break.
They were on the wrong end of the same half-time scoreline again on Friday.
Reniel Hugo, Kerron van Vuuren, Werner Kok and Rohan Janse van Rensburg all touched down as the visitors wrapped up the bonus point in less than 30 minutes, but Zebre – who were temporarily reduced to 13 men early in the half – responded through Luca Bigi before the interval.
Simone Gesi and Taina Fox-Matamua then went over early in the second period, before Gabriele Venditti and Jacopo Trulla both crossed to set up a tense finish, with James Venter scoring the Sharks’ only try of the second period.
Trulla looked to have pulled Zebre level at 39-all with the conversion to come four minutes from time, but the hosts were penalised for a block at the preceding kick-off flagged by the TMO, denying Tiff Eden an opportunity to kick Zebre in front for the first time.
After Chamberlain kicked the resulting penalty, Eden was able to salvage the losing bonus point with a three-pointer of his own, with both sides having earlier secured the try bonus.
The Sharks were given an early boost when Chris Cook was sent to the sin bin having been deemed to have kicked out at Van Vuuren when trying to wriggle clear of the hooker’s clutches.
The Sharks quickly made the extra man count as Hugo collected Erich Cronje’s spilled interception to go over from close range.
Chamberlain added the extras from wide on the right wing before Eden responded with Zebre’s first points from the tee.
Zebre then lost a second man to the bin after 15 minutes when Gesi saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on, and Van Vuuren soon barged his way over for the Sharks’ second try, with Chamberlain again splitting the posts.
Kok added his name to the scoresheet after taking a well-judged inside pass from Thaakir Abrahams. Chamberlain sent over the conversion and Zebre were 21-3 down by the time they were back to a full complement.
The onslaught did not relent, with Janse van Rensburg sent in under the posts to set up a simple conversion and bag a bonus point.
Zebre showed some fight at the end of the first half when Bigi touched down at the back of a driving maul, and Eden’s conversion made it 28-10 at half-time for the second week running. Just like last week, it was Gesi who scored the first try of the second half.
After Chamberlain had added a penalty for the Sharks, Zebre spread the ball brilliantly out to the left wing, where Gesi was on hand to apply the finish, and Eden’s conversion made it 31-17
Zebre had their tails up and Fox-Matamua burrowed over after 50 minutes, but Eden missed the conversion and Chamberlain sent over a penalty before Jooste powered over for what looked to be the game-clinching try.
A thrilling climax saw Venditti’s score converted by Eden before Trulla crossed following excellent work by Pierre Bruno down the wing.
Eden struck the right-hand post from the conversion and though Trulla briefly sent Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi into raptures, the joy was short-lived.
Player of the Match
Sharks scrumhalf Grant Williams was rewarded for his distribution and all-round game with the individual honour in Parma.
Play of the match
One of the key elements of Zebre’s late fightback was Bruno’s brilliant run down the left wing to tee up Trulla. Home fans were beginning to believe before suffering late heartbreak.
Tries: Bigi, Gesi, Fox-Matamua, Venditti,
Cons: Eden 3
Pens: Eden 2
For the Sharks
Tries: Hugo, Van Vurren, Kok, Janse van Rensburg, Venter
Cons: Chamberlain 4
Pens: Chamberlain 2
Yellow cards: Chris Cook (Zebre, 10 – foul play, stamping on an opponent), Simone Gesi (Zebre, 15 – cynical foul, slapping the ball down)
Zebre: 15 Richard Kriel, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Erich Cronjé, 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Tiff Eden, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Taina Fox-Matamua, 7 MJ Pelser, 6 Luca Andreani, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 David Sisi (captain), 3 Ion Neculai, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Paolo Buonfiglio.
Replacements: 16 Giampietro Ribaldi, 17 Juan Pitinari, 18 Muhamed Hasa, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Gabriele Venditti, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 22 Franco Smith Jr, 23 Jacopo Trulla.
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Thaakir Abrahams, 10 Henry Chamberlain, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Phendulani Buthelezi, 7 Dylan Richardson, 6 James Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 Thomas du Toit (captain), 2 Kerron van Vurren, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu.
Replacements: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Dian Bleuler, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Marnus Potgieter.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Federico Vedovelli (Italy), Dante D’elia (Italy)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)