Goosen was a different player
The Sharks held on in the face of a powerful late surge by the Cheetahs to win 29-22 in an entertaining Super Rugby match in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
It was a scintillating second half at Free State Stadium on a hot, hot evening. That it was such an exciting half was mostly due to the Cheetahs and their resurgence was largely thanks to the splendid performance of Johan Goosen at flyhalf.
His entry into the game after a long lay-off through injury was tentative at first. In fact it was error-ridden. He missed three kicks at goal, he kicked directly into touch twice, once from a kick-off, and his general game was way below the standard expected of him.
Then things started to change. He kicked his goals, he created opportunities, he dictated the game, he tackled with intent - he was a different player, and how the Cheetahs flourished. They scored 17 points in eight minutes to get within four of the Sharks who seemed on an easy road to victory. The Sharks became rattled and in fact the Cheetahs scored three tries to their two. Missed kicks eventually counted, not that there was an easy one amongst them.
The Cheetahs had a serious first-phase problem. Their line-outs were poor. They lost three, threw in skew once and conceded a free kick for a baulk. But their scrums were an even bigger problem as the Sharks shoved them around. That meant that good ball was seldom available to the home side..
The Sharks stole the first Cheetah line-out and spun the ball to Lwazi Mvovo on the wing, who had a splendid game. But a long flykick put the Sharks under pressure. Mvovo saved but in the process conceded a five-metre line-out. The Cheetahs won the line-out through Frans Viljoen at No.2. They mauled and drove over for a try credited to Philip van der Walt. 5-0 after 9 minutes.
Then the Shark grip on the match started and Patrick Lambie goaled three penalties, all at the tackle. The Sharks led 9-5 after 27 minutes.
Goosen was at the touchline to catch a long kick but it fell off his hands into touch. Ryan Kankowski slapped a sloppy ball back from the line-out on the Sharks' left. There was Mvovo to pick up the ball and suddenly the players parted and he raced over 30 metres to score. 16-5 after 29 minutes.
The Cheetahs had their moments - a Van der Walt break down the midfield., a five-metre line-out and a five-metre scrum but they were never convincing that they would score.
At the start of the second half Sarel Pretorius came off the bench in his side's search for tries and Waltie Vermeulen also came on in the hope of getting line-out ball. But the Sharks got in first.
Lambie kicked a long way down the left touchline and only desperation enabled Johann Sadie to save the situation, conceding a five-metre line-out in the process as Paul Jordaan sped after the rolling ball.
The Sharks mauled from the line-out and Marcell Coetzee scored in the left corner. Lambie converted . 26-5 after 49 minutes. In the rest of the half the Sharks managed just one penalty goal.
Hennie Daniller, who was great at fullback, had the first of two promising runs and then the Cheetahs attacked - wide hither and thither till Van der Walt broke and slipped a short pass inside to Pieter Labuschagne who ran free for a try. Goosen converted. 26-12 after 59 minutes.
Viljoen flykicked ahead but brave Lambie fell on the ball to save, but the game was now the helter-skelter that the Cheetahs thrive on. Sadie drifted off a clever pass from Goosen and beat Tendai Mtawarira on the outside, running some 40 metres to score in the left corner. Again Goosen converted .26-19 after 63 minutes.
The Sharks were penalised and Boom Prinsloo, on at eighthman, tapped and kicked ahead. Goosen chased and forced Odwa Ndungane into to touch. The Cheetahs mauled and the Sharks were penalised. Seven points behind, the Cheetahs opted to kick at goal and Goosen made it 26-22 after 67 minutes.
The Sharks regathered and gave as good as they got in the last part of the match. Tall Pieter-Steph du Toit was over but had put a foot out and then Lambie goaled a penalty against Prinsloo at a tackle.
The Cheetahs kicked off and tall Daniller plucked the ball out of the sky and raced ahead. Only a flying tackle by Meyer Bosman stopped him four metres short of the line. Pretorius got possession but the Sharks carried him into touch and cleared from the line-out.
Eventually the referee Jonathan Kaplan blew the final whistle, ending his 100th Super Rugby match, the first referee to reach that milestone, and one was left to wonder why he is stopping at the end of this year. He seemed as good as ever he was and the game flourished under his control.
Man of the Match: Patrick Lambie - so calm, so brave, so skilled and so much in control.
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Van der Walt, Labuschagne, Sadie
Cons: Goosen 2
For the Sharks:
Tries: Mvovo, Coetzee
Cons: Lambie 2
Pens: Lambie 5
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Francois Steyn (captain), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha (South Africa), Tiaan Jonker (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)
By Paul Dobson