Werner Kok. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images)
The Sharks went from cruising to sweating, from beach boys to get-out-of-jail birds after narrowly beating Zebre Parma in Italy on Friday night.
It was a game that was a great advertisement for the United Rugby Championship (URC) but one that will cause an immediate recession to Sean Everitt’s hairline.
The Sharks head coach’s side blew a 28-3 lead after a half-an-hour, but eventually squeaked through 42-37 in a 10-try festival.
RECAP | Zebre Parma vs Sharks
The hosts might have won the game, too, were it not for a disallowed try for foul play on Werner Kok in the build-up to Zebre substitute Jacopo Trulla’s late try.
But the South Africans, after a brilliant opening display, will be too glad to get out of Italy alive and as quickly as they can with a bonus-point win.
Zebre started the game with poor discipline, which looked like it would cost them the game.
A potential foul play call on Zebre scrumhalf Chris Cook took a lengthy delay to come to a decision and when it did it was a poor call, a yellow card instead of a red that it should have been.
Cook deliberately stamped on Kerron van Vuuren and only escaped because there was deemed to be “no head contact” and “not much force”.
However, television replays showed the Sharks hooker caught Cook’s boot grazed his face before cannoning into his chest. Cook’s intent was clearly to wound Van Vuuren, who was holding his leg in the tackle.
When Zebre got reduced to 14 men, the Sharks stepped up their attack, keeping the ball and running it through the phases until lock Reniel Hugo went over in the right corner.
It wasn’t long before the Zebre’s discipline tanked further when their left wing Simone Gesi also found himself in the bin with Cook when he deliberately knocked a ball intended for Rohan Janse van Rensburg, who could have cantered to a second Sharks try.
In what seemed like swift karma, Van Vuuren corkscrewed his way over for the visiting second score anyway minutes later for a healthy 14-3 lead after 19 minutes.
Four minutes later, Werner Kok added another when the Sharks put together a sumptuous midfield move that led to Thaakir Abrahams combining well with the mop-haired former SA Sevens star.
Janse Van Rensburg eventually got his debut try that was initially denied by Gesi’s cynical play when pivot Boeta Chamberlain’s line break and feed sent the centre through under the sticks.
The Sharks had four converted tries and 30 minutes had not even lapsed yet.
The period made Italians look like the Zebre of last season, rather than the Zebre of last week when they ran Irish giants Leinster agonisingly close in their opening match.
But the hosts had the last word of what was a horrible half when hooker Luca Bigi scored from the back of a very well-set lineout drive. They went into the shed with a 10-28 deficit, but at least Zebre landed a fulsome blow on the Sharks.
That late first-half score was the impetus Zebre needed to turn momentum to their side.
Zebre scored early in the second half with a silky backline move that landed Gesi over the line – a moment of atonement for his earlier indiscretion.
Then, as the Sharks were still trying to find their bearings, No 8 Taina Fox-Matamua used his body as an instrument to force his way over the line for Zebre’s third try.
It was a totally different match. The Sharks were the ones committing errors and whose discipline hit the floor.
But the visitors composed themselves by slowing the ball down and resetting their mindset after being swept up by the crowd.
Chamberlain slotted a second penalty to keep Zebre at arm’s length before they started exerting their scrum and lineout might like they did in the opening half.
The net result was a fifth try through substitute hooker Dan Jooste that took them out of danger for the moment.
But Zebre weren’t done yet, by a long shot.
They scored three quick tries through substitutes Gabriele Venditti, and Trulla that left the Sharks dumbfounded.
Trulla was denied after a TMO review of foul play and the Sharks survived by the skin of their teeth.
Zebre – (10) 37
Tries: Luca Bigi, Simone Gesi, Taina Fox-Matamua, Gabriele Venditti, Jacopo Trulla
Conversions: Tiff Eden (3)
Penalties: Tiff Eden (2)
Sharks – (28) 42
Tries: Reniel Hugo, Kerron van Vuuren, Werner Kok, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Dan Jooste
Conversions: Boeta Chamberlain (4)
Penalties: Chamberlain (3)