The Cell C Sharks need only one more point from their remaining match (against DHL Western Province next week) to similarly guarantee a home semi-final following this eight-try romp in the late winter Joburg sun.
Basking in its rays was left wing Thaakir Abrahams who continues to shine in his debut season with a hat-trick to go with scores by Marius Louw, Phepsi Buthelezi, Anthony Volmink (2) and Sanele Nohamba. All eight were converted by Lionel Cronje (5) and Boeta Chamberlain (3).
The Sharks set up their victory with four tries featuring some eye-catching individual play in the first half – often from jet-heeled scrumhalf Grant Williams. For the first, he exploded off the back of a driven lineout to pierce an increasingly porous Lions defence and set up centre Marius Louw to finish, cutting back against the grain of play, to score to the right of the poles.
It had taken the visitors 19 minutes to overcome the Sigma Lions’ feisty opening (in which they won penalties at the first three scrums) but their optimism began to thin as it was held up to the light of the Cell C Sharks’ enterprise.
The visitors had to wait only four more minutes for their second try which arrived from a simply outrageous back-of-the hand pass by flyhalf Lionel Cronje from under the shadow of the posts to bounce into the hands of an unmarked Abrahams to canter in from 20 metres.
Lions hooker PJ Botha was sin binned for cynical play shortly after (as was their wing Stean Pienaar in time added on in the first half) as the tide now began to flow determinedly in one direction with the Sharks increasingly threatening against a toiling home defence.
Williams shone again as he burst 25m down the side of an unguarded midfield ruck to offload to the supporting centre Jeremy Ward who in turn offloaded to No 8 Phepsi Buthelezi to jog in from five metres against a totally exposed Lions defence.
The bonus point try arrived in the third minute of time added on in the first half with fullback Anthony Volmink crossing wide on the left when Williams fired out a pass from a centre field ruck to the exposed Lions’ flank.
The second half began as the first had – with the Lions winning a scrum penalty – and it appeared that they claimed their first try when Emmanuel Tshituka grounded the ball close to the line next to the left hand upright.
However, the whistle did not go and seconds later Abrahams was scoring at the other end to complete a 100-metre movement. First the ball was ripped from Tshituka’s hands and moved through three more pairs of hands before Volmink gave the scoring pass. Spectacular.
The Sigma Lions’ response was less dramatic but no less compelling for the effort they put in to breaking their duck at the end of the third quarter. Emmanuel Tshituka deserved the reward for his hard work and after a succession of close-range drives, he finally powered through three tackles to ground the ball half way out on the left.
Replacement scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba made his own spectacular statement with the Sharks’ sixth try, dancing and jigging his way in from halfway, after a brilliant SBW-style chicken-wing offload from replacement back Murray Koster.
But Nohamba’s quickstep was outdone by hat-trick bound Abrahams eight minutes later – sandwiching a second try for the Lions by replacement hooker Jaco Visagie. Abrahams essayed three enormous side-steps off his left foot in dodge inside a sweeping defence to jig behind the poles.
And old boy Volmink completed the scoring in the final minute of play, taking Abrahams’ scoring pass, as the Shakrs gleefully broke out from their own half as another doomed Lions attack broke down.
Sigma Lions 14 (0) – Tries: Emmanuel Tshituka, Jaco Visagie. Conversions: Jordan Hendrikse (2).
Cell C Sharks 56 (28) – Tries: Thaakir Abrahams (3), Anthony Volmink (2), Marius Louw, Phepsi Buthelezi, Sanele Nohamba. Conversions: Lionel Cronje (5), Boeta Chamberlain (3).