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Siya Masuku stars as Sharks set up quarterfinal against Edinburgh

Siya Masuku is getting steadily more influential in the Hollywoodbets Sharks No 10 jersey and the flyhalf was at the centre of almost everything that went right on a wet Durban day as the hosts overcame Zebre 47-3 in their EPCR Challenge Cup round of 16 clash on Sunday.

As that scoreline suggests, it was a comfortable win for the Sharks, their third in succession, as they continue to gain momentum as they head deep into the European secondary competition that offers their only opening into next season’s edition of the elite Investec Champions Cup due to their poor placing in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.

Masuku, recruited from the Cheetahs in the off-season, only started to get game time from mid-February, when he came on in the second half of the defeat to the DHL Stormers in Durban, because coach John Plumtree wasn’t impressed with his physical conditioning when he arrived. Masuku’s first start instead of Curwin Bosch was in the following game against the Emirates Lions, and although the Sharks lost that game in Johannesburg, Masuku’s willingness to take the ball much closer to the gainline than the man he displaced made an immediate difference to the Sharks’ attacking potency.

He isn’t quite as prodigious with distance as Bosch is with long kicks to touch from penalties but every other aspect of his game was outstanding and his creative presence played a strong role in three of the first four Sharks tries.

Zebre started off fairly strongly and had taken an early 3-0 lead with a fifth minute penalty but after that the busy and tactically astute play of the Sharks powered the hosts into a lead that was never threatened as they set up a clash with Edinburgh in this coming weekend’s quarterfinal in Durban.

Edinburgh are coached by former Sharks coach Sean Everitt and the results of this weekend’s games, with Edinburgh scoring an excellent win over the French club Bayonne on Saturday, ensures that Everitt will return to his former home city for the second time in the space of a fortnight.

The Sharks won a URC game against Edinburgh the previous weekend by10 points and they will hope to continue the momentum that started with the game against Ulster.

Another player who has been a revelation in the Sharks jersey in the past few weeks, young centre Ethan Hooker, provided the initial thrust in the buildup to the Sharks’ first try, but it was Masuku’s little jink through the Zebre defenders and inside pass to the scorer, flanker Vincent Tshituka, that set up the seven pointer.

The two wings combined for the second try, with Makazole Mapimpi running the ball to a few metres out from the Zebre line on the right hand corner before former Blitzbok star Werner Kok, who is heading to Ulster at the end of the season, used his strength to drive his way over the line.

Masuku then produced a little chip kick that Lukhanyo Am ran onto before transferring the ball down the line for young lock Corne Rahl to score near the posts and it propelled the Sharks into a 21-3 halftime lead.

Although always dominant in the scrums and also accurate in the lineouts, the Sharks didn’t have it all their own way in the battle for possession, with the Sharks forced to make more tackles in the first half. However, while the Sharks missed just four of their 82 tackling attempts, the visitors missed 16, which accounts for the Sharks making twice as many metres with ball in hand than Zebre did.

If there was any chance of Zebre coming back in the second half, which really would only have been a figment of the imagination, particularly on such a wet day, that was ended when Masuku produced his next bit of magic to set up a Sharks try, this time a grubber from in front of the Zebre posts that fullback Aphelele Fassi ran onto to secure his team’s fourth try.

Phepsi Buthelezi added the fifth try four minutes short of the hour mark as the Sharks made completely certain of the win that ensures they go back to headquarters next week to host Edinburgh in their quest to make the semifinals.

With the result secured, the Sharks coach took the opportunity to experiment a bit in the last quarter, one of those being the shift of former Sharks under-20 captain Hooker to outside centre, and he was the next to score as he powered his way over in the left corner. Hooker’s offloading skills then came to the fore when he put Bosch, who came on at fullback, over in the left corner in the 72nd minute but it was adjudged to be forward by TMO Luke Pearce.

Bosch quickly shrugged off the disappointment with a brilliant little show and go and then turn of speed as he ran through the pretty much the entire Zebre team from his own 10 metre line for a solo try to rival the one scored by Fassi against Edinburgh a week earlier.

Bosch then continued his personal cameo by kicking the angled conversion to complete a highly satisfactory Sunday afternoon for the Sharks.

Scores

Hollywoodbets Sharks – Tries: Vincent Tshituka, Werner Kok, Corne Rahl, Aphelele Fassi, Phepsi Buthelezi, Ethan Hooker and Curwin Bosch. Conversions: Siya Masuku 5 and Curwin Bosch. Zebre 3 – Penalty: Tiff Eden.

Source: Supersport

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