Werner Cook. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images)
The Sharks went from cruising to sweating, from beach boys to birds coming out of prison after narrowly beating Zebre Parma in Italy on Friday night.
It was a match that was a great advertisement for the United Rugby Championship (URC), but one that would cause an immediate recession in Sean Everitt’s hairline.
Sharks head coach side blew a 28-3 lead after half an hour, but eventually blew through 42-37 in a 10-try festival.
SUMMARY | Zebre Parma vs Sharks
The hosts might also have won the game had it not been for a disallowed try for foul play on Werner Kok leading up to the late try by Zebre substitute Jacopo Trulla.
But the South Africans, after a brilliant opening show, will be all too happy to leave Italy alive and as soon as possible with a bonus point win.
Zebre started the game with poor discipline, which looked like it would cost them the game.
A potential foul call on Zebre scrum half Chris Cook took a long delay to come to a decision and when it did it was a bad call, a yellow card instead of a red it should have been.
Cook deliberately stomped on Kerron van Vuuren and only escaped because it was deemed “no head contact” and “not much force”.
However, televised reruns showed the Sharks hooker caught on Cook’s boot grazing his face before putting cannons in his chest. It was clearly Cook’s intention to injure Van Vuuren, who kept his leg in the tackle.
When Zebre was reduced to 14 men, the Sharks stepped up their attack, holding the ball and running through the stages until lock Reniel Hugo passed into the right corner.
It wasn’t long before the Zebre’s discipline dwindled further as their left flank Simone Gesi was also in jail with Cook when he deliberately touched a ball intended for Rohan Janse van Rensburg, who could have galloped to a second attempt by Sharks.
In what seemed quick karma, Van Vuuren corkscrewed for the visiting second score minutes later for a healthy 14-3 lead after 19 minutes.
Four minutes later, Werner Kok added another as the Sharks made a luscious midfield move that resulted in Thaakir Abrahams pairing well with the mop-haired former SA Sevens star.
Janse Van Rensburg eventually got his debut attempt which was initially denied by Gesi’s cynical play when Boeta Chamberlain’s line break and feed sent the center under the sticks.
The Sharks had four converted attempts and 30 minutes had not even passed.
The period made Italians look like last season’s Zebre, rather than last week’s Zebre, as they ran painfully close to Irish giants Leinster in their opening game.
But the hosts had the final say on what was a terrible half when hooker Luca Bigi scored from the back of a very well-drafted lineout drive. They went into the shed 10-28 behind, but Zebre at least gave the Sharks a big blow.
That late score in the first half was the impetus Zebre needed to turn the momentum to their side.
Zebre scored early in the second half with a silky move from the back line that brought Gesi across the line – a moment of reconciliation for his earlier indiscretion.
When the Sharks were still trying to find their way, No 8 Taina TBEN-Matamua used his body as a tool to push his way across the line for Zebre’s third attempt.
It was a completely different game. The Sharks were the ones who made mistakes and whose discipline hit the ground running.
But the visitors calmed down by slowing the ball and resetting their mindset after being swept away by the crowd.
Chamberlain shot a second penalty to keep Zebre at bay before starting to practice their scrum and lineout as they did in the first half.
The net result was a fifth try via substitute Dan Jooste that put them out of danger for the time being.
But Zebre was far from done.
They scored three quick tries through substitutes Gabriele Venditti and Trulla, which left the Sharks dumbfounded.
Trulla was rejected after a TMO assessment of foul play, and the sharks survived through the skin of their teeth.
Zebre – (10) 37
Tries: Luca Bigi, Simone Gesi, Taina TBEN-Matamua, Gabriele Venditti, Jacopo Trulla
Conversions: Tiff Eden (3)
Punishments: Tiff Eden (2)
Sharks – (28) 42
Tries: Reniel Hugo, Kerron van Vuuren, Werner Kok, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Dan Jooste
Conversions: Boeta Chamberlain (4)
Punishments: Chamberlain (3)