Lukhanyo Am delivers knockout blow to Stormers as Sharks advance to playoffs
Lukhanyo Am was the hero for the Sharks as they broke the Stormers’ hearts with a last-second try to qualify for the Super Rugby playoffs with a 12-9 victory at Newlands on Saturday.
In what was an utterly forgettable match, Springbok centre Am brought a rare bit of spark to the encounter as he cut inside the Stormers outside backs to dive over for the winning try after the hooter.
Up until that point, it seemed like neither side wanted to go through to the next round, as they both battled to break down each other’s defences.
There was a lack of imagination on the attack from the Stormers and Sharks, with the typical approach being to bash up the middle and hope for the best.
There was no point of difference with ball-in-hand after the two sets of forwards rolled up their sleeves to do the dirty work and secure reasonable ball for the backs.
For the Stormers, Seabelo Senatla and Dillyn Leyds tried hard to make something happen, while Sbu Nkosi and Aphelele Fassi did the same for the visitors.
It was a poor advertisement of the game in this country, and on the evidence of this performance, neither side really deserved to be in the knockouts – although the high injury toll in the Stormers set-up over the last few weeks is a mitigating factor.
The most exciting part of the first half came just before the 30-minute mark, when the Stormers were camping inside the Sharks 22.
Flyhalf Josh Stander, though, threw a poor pass out wide, and Sharks replacement Rhyno Smith showed great skill to kick the ball ahead instead of trying to catch it.
Smith won the race to the bouncing ball, and had more than enough pace to finish off.
That put the Sharks 5-3 ahead, following a Stander penalty in the 23rd minute.
Stander added another three-pointer just after halftime, and when replacement pivot Jean-Luc du Plessis slotted another with three minutes to go, coach Robbie Fleck would’ve thought that his team had pulled it through.
But the Sharks rallied for one last time, and surged upfield before Am delivered the knockout blow.
Stormers 9 – Penalties: Josh Stander (2), Jean-Luc du Plessis (1).
Sharks 12 – Tries: Rhyno Smith, Lukhanyo Am. Conversion: Robert du Preez (1).@ashfakmohamed