The Sharks maintained their one hundred per cent record in this year's Super 14 with a hard earned 22-10 victory over the Reds in Durban on Saturday.
With the game locked at 10-10 after an hour the home side's pressure finally told as they scored two quick tries to keep up the pressure on the Crusaders at the top of the table. But it was never a game they could relax in as an enterprising Reds side made them work hard from start to finish.
In fact the Sharks spent the bulk of the first half in defence as the Reds through everything at their hosts. Quade Cooper eased his side around the field well, and Chris Latham was a constant threat with ball in hand.
Despite their early promise it was the Sharks who drew first blood, thanks to a Stefan Terblanche drop goal. With Chris Pollock playing advantage for offside Terblanche sent over a fine snap drop goal, although it did little to dampen the Reds' spirit. David Croft and Ben Lucas were at the heart of the Reds best rugby, but try as they may they could not get the finishing touch they needed to score.
And it was the Reds' inability to finish moves that cost them a try. Cooper, after a dazzling piece e of skill sent Chris Latham flying into the Sharks' twenty-two, although the great full-back could not hold the ball. Fifteen seconds later and the Sharks had scored. JP Pietersen kicked long, John Roe made a hash of the clearance and Pietersen was able to gather and send Odwa Ndungane under the posts.
With only a Clinton Schifcofske penalty to show for their efforts the Reds were in danger of losing sight of their hosts, although Croft's try on the stroke of half time changed all of that. The Sharks lost their own line-out on their own twenty-two and the Reds made them pay.
Croft took the ball and sent it wide to Cooper, two quick phases later and Croft was on hand to finish in the corner. The concern for the Sharks will be that Croft beat Pietersen on the outside for pace. Schifcofske added a fine conversion and the Reds went into half time on level terms.
The second half was an arm wrestle as the Sharks looked to wear the Reds down. It took twenty minutes but eventually the visitors could not hold anymore as Terblanche added a try to his earlier drop goal. Rory Kockott snipped down the blindside where he found Ndungane in support, who in turn sent the ball back inside to Terblanche for an easy finish.
One sensed that score knocked the life out of the Reds, and even if it hadn't Bismarck du Plessis' effort five minutes later did. Three tight drives for the line yielded nothing, that was until du Plessis spotted a gap and nudged over for the score that sealed the game.
Credit to the Reds for continuing to push for a bonus-point score but they could not break the Sharks defence. The result means it is now a two-horse race between the Sharks and the Crusaders for top spot, although one heavily favours the side from New Zealand to maintain their position at the top. With the two sides still to play each other we are in for a thrilling climax at the top end of the table.
Man of the Match: David Croft was superb in a losing cause, as was Chris Latham. Ben Lucas showed he is more than capable of filling the number nine jersey and Quade Cooper showed some nice touches. Francois Steyn was full of running, although he lacked a little control at fly-half. However it was Jacques Botes' all-action display that stole this award.
Moment of the Match: The arrival of Rory Kockott at scrum-half in the second half. Ruan Pienaar tried but could not find that spark to break the Reds. However Kockott's extra pace and zest was enough to swing this game to the home side.
Villain of the Match: Thankfully we will keep hold of this award after a nice clean game.
Tries: Ndungane, Terblanche, B. du Plessis
Cons: Pienaar, Kockott
Drop goal: Terblanche
Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Bradley Barritt, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jacques Botes, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Johann Muller (c), 4 AJ Venter, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 BJ Botha, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Epi Taione, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Frédéric Michalak.
Reds: 15 Chris Latham (c), 14 Clinton Schifcofske, 13 Morgan Turinui, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Peter Hynes, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 David Croft, 6 John Roe, 5 James Horwill, 4 Van Humphries, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Sean Hardman, 17 Rodney Blake, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Poutasi Luafutu, 20 Will Genia, 21 Charlie Fetoai, 22 Digby Ioane.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand), Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Assessor: Dennis Immelman (South Africa)