Late penalty seals it
The Sharks held on in the face of a furious second-half comeback by Griquas to score a Currie Cup 31-24 win in Kimberley on Saturday.
Griquas came back from being 3-18 down at half-time and almost won.
With less than a minute remaining they had brought the score back to 24-28, and in win a chance of stealing a late winner, but an injury-time penalty sealed the win for the visitors.
Griquas, despite being reduced to 14 men just past the five-minute mark, had the better of the early exchanges - but were mostly undone by their own handling errors. It also didn't help their cause that they were on the wrong side of the referee too often, their lack discipline costing them dearly.
Not that the Sharks' discipline was much better, as they also coughed up a string of penalties.
The scrums were a royal mess, virtually every first-half scrum ending in either a penalty or a turnover ball.
After the break Griquas continued to waste their opportunities with some sloppy handling and poor options, although their endeavour could not be faulted.
And they home team certainly had the better of the second-half exchanges.
That said, the Sharks scored when it mattered most and deserved their win - although they would be disappointed not having collected a four-try bonus point.
An early scrum penalty allowed Nico Scheepers a shot at goal from about 30 metres out, on the angle, giving Griquas a 3-0 lead in as many minutes.
However, the game was turned on its head almost from the restart, the referee dishing out a red card against Jonathan Francke for a spear tackle. It left the home team down a man for almost the entire game.
Just past the 10-minute mark the Sharks scrum was again penalised, but this time Scheepers was wide of the mark.
The first scoring opportunity for the Sharks came in the 17th minute, from a ruck penalty - Fred Zeilinga slotting it from about 40 metres out to level the scores. And Zeilinga gave his team the lead for the first time just after the completion of the first quarter - from yet another scrum penalty.
That lead became 11-3 just past the half-hour mark - Zeilinga going over after a pass the referee said 'drifted' forward, even though it went forward by at least five metres. The conversion attempt was wide.
Right on the half-time break Paul Jordaan slipped through some sloppy defence to score the visitors' second try. Zeilinga's conversion made it 18-3 at the break and left the home team with a massive mountain to climb.
Soon after the restart the Sharks were reduced to 14 men, albeit for only 10 minutes - after prop Thomas du Toit was sent for a cynical, professional foul when he took the Griquas scrumhalf out of play just a metre from his own line.
However, the Sharks scored next - a Zeilinga penalty in the 53rd minute - after Griquas continued to fumble their way through the game.
Griquas continued to battle away and robust flank Marnus Schoeman was rewarded for his incredible workrate with a try in the 57th minute - working his way past a few defenders and then wormed himself over for a five-pointer that required the intervention of the TMO.
However, almost from the restart Zeilinga put Sibusiso Sithole into a hole and the midfielder simply had too much pace for the cover - making it 28-10 right on the hour mark.
Still Griquas continued to battle away, and with just over 15 minutes remaining Carel Greeff worked his way over in the right corner - the Scheepers conversion making it an 11-point game (17-28).
The men from Kimberley continued to hammer away and with less than a minute on the clock a cross-field kick from Francois Brummer found replacement Edries Arendse - snatched the ball out of the air and with an opponent clinging onto him touched down. Scheepers landed the conversion, 24-28.
There was enough time for a restart, but it was the Sharks who got the final points - a penalty by Zeilinga, making the final score 31-24.
Man of the match: Rocco Jansen was, as always, dangerous with ball in hand, but it was on defence where he did some of his best work. Nico Scheepers brought great value with his boot. Marnus Schoeman had such a high workrate it at times seemed as if Griquas had 15 players on the field and he came close to winning it, even in a losing cause. Paul Jordaan produced a few flash moments, rookie scrumhalf Cameron Wright showed why he is so highly rated. However, our award goes to Sharks flyhalf Fred Zeilinga, who was pulling the strings. While his try was a tough fortunate (from a ball that was passed forward by more than five metres), he general play was simply sublime and he showed his class when putting Sibusiso Sithole over for a crucial try near the hour-mark.
Tries: Schoeman, Greeff, Arendse
Cons: Scheepers 3
For the Sharks:
Tries: Zeilinga, Jordaan, Sithole
Cons: Zeilinga 2
Pens: Zeilinga 4
Yellow card: Thomas du Toit (Sharks, 44 - professional foul, cynically playing the scrumhalf a metre from the line)
Red card: Jonathan Francke (Griquas, 6 - foul play, spear tackle)
Griquas: 15 Nico Scheepers, 14 Danie Dames, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Wayne Stevens (captain), 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Hilton Lobberts, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Jaco Nepgen, 4 Willem Serfontein, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Ryno Barnes, 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 Ewald Van Der Westhuizen, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 RJ Liebenberg, 20 Abrie Griesel, 21 Marais Schmidt, 22 Edries Arendse.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Sibusiso Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Tonderai Chavhanga, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu (captain), 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Marco Wentzel, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 JC Astle, 20 Francois Kleinhans, 21 Hanco Venter, 22 Lionel Cronjé.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Francois de Bruin
TMO: JJ Wagner