The Sharks regained first place on the Super 14 standings when they retained their unbeaten record with an emphatic 27-14 win over the Hurricanes in Durban on Saturday.
The Sharks collected a bonus point for the first time this season when they scored four tries to one.
Have you heard of Natal fever? It's a disease that settles on Durban in the hot and humid months of February and March. The symptoms are extreme lethargy and sluggishness. It was clearly present at ABSA Stadium on this third Saturday in March. It was a largely sluggish match with an inevitable result.
That the Hurricanes were within a converted try of a bonus point at the end seemed silly, for they were well and truly outplayed, especially in the second half when the Sharks simply settled down on them like a sumo wrestler flopping onto a bantamweight. They had little possession and, when they did get some, seemed to believe that charging was better than the skilled passing that is such a great feature of their game.
The Sharks were better at the breakdown, better at tackling, better with the ball in hand and better in the scrums. They were much stronger than the Hurricanes and it was the forwards who exercised the grip on the game. The scrums must cause headaches. BJ Botha had the better of Neemia Tialata but was penalised twice in the first half for being better!
In fact penalties must have been a headache as the Sharks surpassed the 18 penalties conceded by the Bulls last week to concede 20 penalties this week and they were the side dominating the game. There were 32 penalties in the match all told.
For the first time in this year's Super 14 the unbeaten Sharks managed a bonus point. It was not a pretty bonus point but one that delighted their fans even though three of the four tries were mastodon affairs as they shoved their way over from attacking line-outs where they have a simple formula - throw to AJ Venter who gives to somebody else - Warren Britz mostly today - get together and then shove ahead. It has a deadly precision about it.
Their first try was a different matter. Odwa Ndungane made the running towards the Hurricanes' posts and AJ Venter took the ball close to their line. Back it came and the Sharks went right to JP Pietersen who skipped between two defenders in that sinuous way of his for a try fairly close in. Ruan Pienaar who kicked that miracle conversion against the Crusaders hit the upright and later missed another before being replaced by Butch James who kicked every kick.
The Sharks led 5-0 after five minutes and then Tana Umaga was sent to the sin bin, accused of deliberately playing a man without the ball. In his absence sitting on the exercise bike, the only points scored were by the Hurricanes when Blair Stewart goaled an easy one after Bismarck du Plessis had been penalised at a tackle/ruck.
When Umaga came back Stewart had a break from a line-out and then goaled another penalty to give the Hurricanes the lead. At this stage they were competitive, giving no clue to their second half close-down.
The Sharks got the lead back when they made a maul from a five-metre line-out and Johan Ackermann was the man who enjoyed scoring the try which caused much glee amongst the forwards, as it did for the other two they scored in the second half.
Just before the break, Stewart goaled a third penalty to make the score 10-9. That ended his participation as Jimmy Gopperth replaced him - and missed his first kick at goal, an annoying penalty for "truck-'n-trailer".
The Sharks had a kickable penalty but James tapped and Britz was close. They did their penalty-line-out-maul routine and this time Jacques Botes scored. James converted. 17-9.
It seemed tat this stage that the Sharks knew they were going to win and that the Hurricanes accepted it, playing against the inevitable for the next 35 minutes.
Off a long pass by François Steyn, Pietersen had a long run and the Sharks should have scored as the ball went to Du Plessis and Albert van den Berg.
The Hurricanes were penalised for going up in a scrum and the Sharks did their routine. The Hurricanes were penalised for collapsing and the Sharks did their routine again and this time Britz scored - the bonus-point try. James converted to make the score 24-9 after 50 minutes.
The only other points the Sharks got were from a penalty goal to take them to 27-9 with 21 minutes to go.
On a rare sortie into the Sharks' half - courtesy of penalties, of course - the Hurricanes scored a try. At a post--penalty line-out replacement hooker Mahonri Schwalger popped the ball in to Anthony Perenise at the front of the line-out. The prop popped it back to the hooker while the Sharks' replacement hooker John Smit slumbered. Schwalger ran and popped the ball back to Perenise who scored. 27-14 with 15 minutes to go.
Johan Muller was injured when his head hit Bradley Mika's hip and he was taken off on a stretcher. The word afterwards was that he had damaged soft tissue at the back of his neck and that he was taken to hospital for tests as a precaution.
Replacement prop, the Zimbabwean Beast Mtawarira was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle that ended his match. Although Du Plessis was ready to come back and Smit was originally and often a prop, the Sharks opted not to have anybody suitably trained available and the last four scrums of the match were uncontested.
The match fizzled out.
Man of the Match: The Sharks had good performances from centre Waylon Murray and flyhalf Butch James but really this victory belonged to the forwards - not just busy Jacques Botes and the other loose forwards but above all to the muscle men whose representative is our Man of the Match, BJ Botha.
For the Sharks:
Tries: Pietersen, Ackermann, Botes, Britz
Cons: James 2
For the Hurricanes:
Pens: Stewart 3
Yellow cards: Tana Umaga (Hurricanes, 15 - foul play, playing man without the ball), Beast Mtawarira (Sharks, 74 - foul play, high tackle)
Sharks: 15 Francois Steyn, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Bradley Barritt, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Butch James, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Jacques Botes, 7 AJ Venter (c), 6 Warren Britz, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Johan Ackermann, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Deon Carstens.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Bobby Skinstad, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Adrian Jacobs.
Hurricanes: Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Tana Umaga (c), 11 David Smith, 10 Blair Stewart, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Luke Andrews, 5 Bernie Upton, 4 Paul Tito, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Tone Kopelani, 1 Neemia Tialata.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 John Schwalger, 18 Bradley Mika, 19 Hayden Hopgood, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Jimmy Gopperth, 22 Tamati Ellison
Referee: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Touch judges: Nathan Pearce (Australia) Phillip Bosch (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Assessor: Arrie Schoonwinkel (South Africa), Paul Ramsay (New Zealand)