The Sharks ended their Super Rugby regular-season campaign with a hard-fought 36-10 win over the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday.
The result changes nothing in the overall standings as the Sharks finish third overall – meaning they will face the Highlanders in Durban in the playoffs next weekend – while the Stormers end 11th overall and third in the South African conference.
The target of a 35-point win and four tries required to overtake the Crusaders was always going to be tall order and Jake White’s team will be ruing last week’s loss to the Cheetahs more than ever.
The Sharks led 19-10 at the interval thanks to a try from centre Paul Jordaan plus four penalties and a conversion from fly-half Frans Steyn although the Stormers had been first to cross the whitewash via flanker Nizaam Carr.
The Stormers dominated for large parts of the second half but Sharks wing S’bura Sithole and replacement scrum-half Stefan Ungerer scored late tries to secure the win for the visitors.
Steyn was successful with his second attempt to goal to open the scoring after just four minutes. The Sharks dominated the opening exchanges but did not get the reward they would have hoped for.
It was the Stormers who took the game by the scruff of the neck near the end of the first quarter. Sharks flank Willem Alberts saw yellow after a series of infringements and the hosts took full advantage of his absence to drive over.
Sharks skipper Bismarck du Plessis was raging as there was little evidence to suggest that Carr had in fact grounded the ball but the ref was having now of it and Kurt Coleman’s extras put the Stormers up 7-3.
Steyn on target
The Sharks made the Stormers defence work very hard and three Steyn penalties in the space of six minutes had the visitors up 12-7 as the pack in black did the hard graft and the Stormers’ line-out suffered.
Coleman narrowed the gap with his first penalty – after the Sharks were caught offside – but the Sharks hit back with an opportunistic try as Jordaan chased down Charl McLeod’s hack ahead to win the race and score.
Steyn slotted the conversion to give his side a nine-point headstart going into the second half.
The Stormers started the second half without Duane Vermeulen, who was still suffering from a head clash with JP Pietersen that had seen the Sharks centre leave the field on a stretcher.
The Sharks were first to strike after the restart with Steyn slotting his fifth penalty – after Alistair Vermaak didn’t use the gate at a ruck – to give the visitors a 12-point gap.
Most of the next half-hour saw the Stormers camped in the Sharks’ 22, throwing themselves against an impenetrable black-clad wall.Â
But the Sharks landed two sucker punches in the dying minutes as first Sithole raced home after a break from Tonderai Chavhanga before Ungerer sprinted in from halfyway to seal the win and add a flattering appearance to the scoreline.
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Super Rugby: Sharks sign off regular season with convincing win over Stormers