Sharks u19 end a 10-year home losing streak against the Lions u19

The mother of all home losing streaks is finally over. The record will now show that the Sharks u19 beat the Lions u19 25-10 in a home game in 2018. One has to go all the way back to 2008 to come across the last time a Sharks team beat the Golden Lions in a home fixture in the under-19 competition.

That 2008 home match at Kings Park was a semi-final won 28-25 by the Sharks on their way the union’s one and only under-19 title.

The venue for this 2018 match was the Moses Mabhida Stadium, which is across the road from Kings Park and was just a construction site work-in-progress back in 2008.

The weather conditions were not great. A very very strong North-Westerly was blowing. For aesthetics the MM stadium a huge opening on its southern side which seemed to enhance the effect of the wind. To be honest it felt like a match being played at UCT.

The young Lions had to play into the gale force in the first half, making their kicking out of hand a nightmare. The flight path of a kicked ball would start out well but once it reached its highest point and lost its force, the wind would simply drag it backwards in the direction from which it was kicked. This resulted in the Lions being pinned back for most of the first 35-minute period.

The other wind effect was evidenced very early when what should have been a regulation pass by scrumhalf Tinus Combrinck from just inside his own 22, was picked up by mother nature and ended with a teammate having to save the situation close to the Lions’ deadball line. Accurate passing and in particular long passing was not easy.

The Lions had a big physical pack and players like the lock pairing of Cristen van Niekerk and Ruben Kotze as well as no.8 Cal Smid were making their presence felt on the advantage line. Overall this was possibly the only pleasing aspect of their play on a miserable outing, where more appear to go wrong that right for the underperforming visitors. To their detriment the Sharks were up to the defensive challenge. Sharks opensider Vian Fourie proved to be a menace at tackled ball breakdowns. Fourie and his opposite number Mark Snyman had both deservedly been reward with SA Schools caps in 2017 but hopes of epic George Smith versus Phil Waugh type battle unfolding didn’t materialise as Fourie appeared to dominate this specialist department, including winning a vital turnover on his own tryline, denying the Lions their best scoring chance of the first half.

The lineout set-piece seemed to set the frame of mind. Full credit must go to the Sharks coaching staff led by Sean Everitt and especially hooker Fez Mbatha who is looking like a fine prospect. In trying circumstances the Sharks were sharp and went for the unorthodox innovation plus some to just secure ball as first prize. Defensively the Lions never switched on to this and struggled on their own throw-ins, clearly missing their highly rated first choice Dameon Venter (ruled out with concussion). There were other let down decisions made by the visitors as well such as one to scrum a kickable penalty when they only had seven forwards on the park and an overcooked flat cross-kick metres from the line when there was a clear overlap to use the ball in hand.

Out wide the general impression was that of no contest. The Lions decision to play Chris Humphries who has been one of the finds of the season at fullback instead of flyhalf failed. He didn’t appear to have the confidence or the natural ability to pose a threat, whereas the Sharks flashy fullback Muller du Plessis, who was credited with one assist, was someone you didn’t want to blink when he got the ball just in case you missed something special. Running down the line from 9 to 15, it was like the Sharks had the ballplayer and threating upper-hand in every position, in spite of the difficulty that passing posed.

Sharks scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba place kicked well in the trying circumstances. He helped build a 6-0 lead from two penalties, in a match where the referee appeared a tad bit trigger happy at ruck-time.

The opening try scored by Sharks outside centre DJ Falconer had team-try written all over it. Somewhere in the build-up there was a valuable carry by no.8 Pepsi Buthelezi but it was the continuity that undid the Lions D in the end for Falconer to canter in. This made it 13-0 at the break.

To add to the Lions misery, the velocity of the wind died down a bit by the time the second half started. Even still they were not able to use it as well as the Sharks did.

Humphries pulled one score back to reduce it to 3-13, 5-minutes into the second half.

The Sharks killer blow was delivered less than 5-minutes later. Coming off the bench as an impact player, big lock JJ van der Mescht produced an x-factor moment. A bit of explosive pace got him into a hole, then his power to stay upright took care of the would-be tacklers and finally the lateral awareness to execute a textbook draw and pass, put under-18 replacement wing Asanda Kunene away for a finish near the right corner. It was brilliantly converted by Nohamba as well to put the Sharks 20-3 up.

Five or so minutes later it was 25-3. Du Plessis was prominent with two touches after a poor exit by the Lions. His second one was a well-judged threaded through grubber into the left corner in-goal for two teammates to chase. In the end replacement centre Onke Jiba got downward pressure on the ball.

The Lions eventually earned a reward for persistence via another of their powerhouse ball-carriers in tighthead prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye, which Humphries converted, making it 25-10, which is how it stayed until the final whistle.

The Sharks adapted far better to the unusual playing conditions and deserved their win.

The Lions will be disappointed. They were not at their best but they also made the cardinal sin of leaving points on the field.

By winning this match the Sharks under-19s remain unbeaten and top the log.

Since the u19 Championship became a two-round (home and away) affair in 2010, this is the Sharks’ best ever start to a campaign. Interestingly it is also the second time since round two of 2010, that the junior Sharks have completed a grand slam in one round, beating the permanents in the Bulls, Leopards, Lions and Western Province plus Eastern Province who were promoted in 2014 (Griffons competed in 2010).

During that nine season period, Eastern Province, Free State and the Golden Lions have completed one grand slam apiece, Western Province have done it five times and remarkably the Bulls are the only team to have ever gone through an entire regular season unbeaten (a double grandslam), which was back in 2013 and serves as testimony to how competitive it is at the top end of this league.

Coincidently 2010 was also the last time Sean Everitt was Sharks u19 head coach.

1 James Scott Grey HS 1 Nkosi Masuku Parktown
2 Fezokuhle Mbatha Maritzburg College 2 Tiaan Drotskie Boland Landbou
3 Francois Klopper Voortrekker (Beth) 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye St Stithians
4 Jeandre Labushagne Maritzburg College 4 Ruben Kotze Waterkloof
5 Dre Engelbrecht Paarl Gim 5 Cristen van Niekerk Monument
6 Vian Fourie HJS Paarl BH 6 Mark Snyman Helpmekaar
7 Dylan Richardson Kearsney 7 Mandisi Mthiyane DHS
8 Phendulani Buthelezi DHS 8 Cal Smid Rondebosch
9 Sanele Nohamba DHS 9 Tinus Combrinck Monument
10 Henry Chamberlain HJS Paarl BH 10 Jonathan Viljoen Monument
11 Thaakir Abrahams HJS Paarl BH 11 Kennedy Mpeku KES
12 Murray Koster St Andrew’s 12 Edmund Ludick Oos-Moot
13 Donald Falconer Rondebosch 13 Janco van Heyningen Grey College
14 Caleb Dingaan Weston 14 Njabulo Mjara Maritzburg College
15 Muller Du Plessis Paarl Gim 15 Chris Humphries Trinityhouse
16 Cole Haggard Hudson Park 16 Gustav de Jager Waterkloof
17 Adriaan Staples Paarl Gim 17 JW Meades Witteberg
18 JJ van der Mescht Glenwood 18 Keagan Glade KES
19 Armandt Conradie HJS Paarl BH 19 Hendrik Smit Diamantveld
20 Adam Mountfort Selborne 20 Ziyanda Msipha KES
21 Matthew Doyle Wynberg 21 Hlumelo Ndudula Hudson Park
22 Onke Jiba DHS 22 David Cary Helpmekaar
23 Asanda Kunene DHS 23 Brendon Buitendag Monument

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