Kings sink Sharks for historic triumph
Southern Kings defeated a fellow South African side for the first time in Super Rugby when they edged Coastal Sharks 35-32 Saturday after a thriller in Port Elizabeth.
It was also the first time the Port Elizabeth outfit have won three consecutive matches following victories over Australian sides New South Wales Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels.
Kings secured success over Sharks two minutes from time when replacement back Pieter-Steyn de Wet dived over in the corner after fierce, continuous pressure.
Skipper and fly-half Lionel Cronje converted from the touchline to create a three-point gap in the eastern Cape city.
Sharks knocked on the kick-off and after the tension of a post-hooter scrum that had to be reset, Kings booted the ball into the stand and wild celebrations began.
The surge in form by the Port Elizabeth outfit comes amid South African media reports that Kings are likely to be axed from the competition next season.
Dwindling crowds and TV audiences and increasing costs have forced organisers SANZAAR to trim the number of Super Rugby teams from 18 to 15 for next season.
Two casualties will be South African and one Australian and Kings and Bloemfontein-based Central Cheetahs are set to be dumped with the Rebels or Western Force.
A plea by Kings players for a big turn-out at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was heeded with a 20,000 crowd creating an electric atmosphere.
The teams served up one of the best Super Rugby matches in South Africa this season with eight points the maximum gap between them. Kings led 18-16 at half-time.
The only disappointment was the departure of Sharks fly-half Patrick Lambie with concussion in his first start after returning last weekend from a lengthy injury lay-off.
Lambie and Golden Lions playmaker Elton Jantjies are the likely Springbok fly-half contenders for a three-Test home series against France next month.
"I am absolutely delighted," said Kings skipper Cronje after the greatest day in the three seasons of Super Rugby for his team.
"We love our supporters and want to see a full stadium next weekend for our game against the Australian Brumbies.
"We play to our strengths. We play for ourselves, our supporters and Port Elizabeth."
Sharks skipper and flanker Philip van der Walt said a poor start in which they conceded eight points contributed to the loss.
"A sluggish start definitely hampered us. We played as well as we were allowed so congratulations to the Kings on a historic victory."
Despite the setback, Sharks remain on course for a quarter-finals place with a nine-point lead over Jaguares of Argentina in the race to fill the best Africa conferences runners-up slot.
Veteran winger Alshaun Bock (2), Cronje and De Wet scored tries for Kings while Cronje kicked three conversions, two penalties and a drop goal.
Loose forward Daniel du Preez and winger Lwazi Mvovo crossed the tryline for Sharks, Lambie kicked a conversion and two penalties and Garth April a conversion and four penalties.