The Sharks scored the only try of the game to beat the Lions 25-12 at Ellis Park and claim top spot on the Super Rugby standings.
It was not the most fluent, creative, adventurous, romantic game ever played and yet there was a certain fascination in what happened before 30 377 enthusiastic spectators at Ellis Park on a warm, autumn evening. The 25-12 score may look comfortable enough for the Sharks but it was not. They had an embarrassment of riches, as the French would say, and yet their profit was based on the errors of the Lions rather than their own creative genius. That went for the lone try of the match as well - an error by the Lions.
At the end of the first half the Sharks had had 72% of possession and the score was 6-all. It was more danse macabre than palais glide. But it was fascinating.
The strangest thing about it was that the Lions did not appear to be hanging on by their fingernails. The Sharks did not look as if at any moment they would break the dam walls and pour a tsunami over the Lions. And at the end you felt that the Lions had not be dealt with fairly in not getting at least a point out of the match.
Odwa Ndungane led the Sharks out on to the green grass of Ellis Park, celebrating his 100th match for the Sharks. The Lions kicked off to him, he dummied and ran from deep in his own 22 to the Lions' 10-metre line where he passed. This, it seemed, was going to be a romantic evening. That was the only bit of romance and in the second half Ndungane left the field injured.
He was not the only injury. Deon van Rensburg damaged a knee and was taken off on the mobile stretcher. Fred Zeilinga ran with the ball and suddenly collapsed in agony with a hamstring injury. That was early in the first half.
Jannie du Plessis was given a yellow card for late shouldering and Willem Alberts had a tried denied because he had played a man without the ball to get these.
None of that is romantic.
Before Zeilinga went off he kicked two penalty goals, one when Lionel Mapoe was penalised at a tackle and one when Franco Mostert was offside. The Sharks led 6-0 after 5 minutes. But Mauritz Boshoff did in like manner and the score was 6-all after 32 minutes.
Twice the Sharks attacked wide left and then wide right. Once Ndungane and JP Pietersen combined in an attack on the left. The Sharks bashed. Tendai Mtawarira charged and Stefan Watermeyer ripped the ball from his grasp and into in-goal where Alberts got to it first. But the TMO was able to show that he played unfairly to do so, pulling Watermeyer back to disable him.
When Zeilinga went off, Steyn went to flyhalf with Heimar Williams at centre. In the second half when Ndungane went off, JP Marais went to fullback and Lwazi Mvovo to the left wing.
From five metres inside the Sharks' half and five metres from touch, Steyn goaled a soaring penalty. 9-6 after 47 minutes. Three minutes later he goaled a more difficult one. 12-6.
Just before that the Lions were on the attack and awarded a penalty. They tapped and attacked but Alwyn Hollenbach lost the ball forward. Mvovo caught the long knock-on just before his goal-line and set off downfield. Just before the half-way line he passed to Ndungane. It was the best bit of adventure in the match.
Slender Courtnall Skosan broke brilliantly and the Lions attacked. Derick Minnie actually got over the line but was held up. But when Marcell Coetzee was penalised at a tackle, Boshoff goaled the easy kick. 12-9 after 58 minutes. That is the summary of how the Lions kept in touch.
The Sharks broke out and attacked down the left. Faf de Klerk was penalised and Steyn lobbed over the easy kick. 15-9 after 62 minutes but Boshoff did in line manner two minutes later when Alberts was penalised.
The Lions deserved more from the match than they got, and yet they were masters of their own defeat.
going right Hollenbach did a dummy switch and was in isolation when he was tackled. Sibusiso Sithole won a turnover and sent Mvovo galloping away down the left wing. He chipped, gathered and scored from about 40 metres out. 22-12 after 67 minutes.
when Corné Fourie was penalised at a tackle, a Steyn penalty ended the scoring.
Man of the Match: Frans Steyn and his booming boot, his aggressive defence and excellent distribution was the most effective player on the field but our choice is Lwazi Mvovo, the player who produced the only bits of romantic creativity in the match.
For the Lions:
Pens: Boshoff 4
For the Sharks:
Pens: Zeilinga 2, Steyn 4
Yellow card: Jannie du Plessis (Sharks, 17 - Foul play)
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Alwyn Hollenbach.
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Sibusiso Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Stefan Breytenbach
TMO: Marius Jonker