Sharks make it a Newlands double
The Sharks strengthened their growing reputation as Western Province/Stormers’ hoodoo team by scoring a nailbiting 25-23 win on a bitterly cold winter’s evening at Newlands on Saturday.
The winning start to their Absa Currie Cup campaign will please a young Sharks team which includes several players who had to travel to New Zealand and back since they were here a fortnight ago winning the Vodacom Super Rugby semifinal against the same opponents.
So it is two wins in succession for the Sharks in the space of just 14 days, and if that is not something worth crowing over, then nothing is.
Certainly the Sharks will travel back to Durban on Sunday confident after this victory that they have the depth to challenge for the Currie Cup title and possibly go one further than they did in Super Rugby last week and in the final of the domestic competition last year.
A change of tactics immediately after halftime saw them make more judicious use of the boot as a method of attack for a dramatic turn-around. They were trailing 13-3 at the break, but within five minutes of the restart two well placed kicks set up tries.
The first was from Riaan Viljoen near his own line one minute into the second half, the kick sitting up perfectly for Meyer Bosman who transferred to Paul Jordaan, the centre running 55 metres for the try.
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The second was one of those bouncing, bobbling efforts that was eagerly seized on by hooker Craig Burden, who slid over to put the Sharks into the lead for the first time with the conversion.
Not long after that, just after WP had reclaimed the lead with a penalty, it was the WP inability to control the ball at the restart that led to Burden bursting away for his second try.
The hosts of course are also starting out afresh, so there were mitigating factors, plus on paper the Sharks probably boasted more experience, but when it was suggested sometime during last night’s game that the Durbanites are starting to become the WP/Stormers' hoodoo team, the comment did not attract much dissent.
DEPRESSINGLY FAMILIAR PROBLEMS
For WP, the problems they encountered along the way were all too depressingly familiar. The only two tries they scored both came through the driving maul off the lineout, so nothing new there.
And if WP coach Allister Coetzee ever has nightmares featuring the Sharks, it is sure to involve seeing them kick the ball and then feasting on his own team’s errors.
In a nutshell what happened in this match was that WP played well to take a healthy early lead before releasing it to a quick two-try burst in the five minutes after halftime.
They reclaimed it once but then gave away another try as a direct consequence of failing to control the restart, and after that it was time for catch-up.
And catch-up was something that the Stormers laboured over two weeks ago and WP laboured over it in similar fashion in this game.
On several occasions they built up with promise during a second half in which they had spent most of it camped in Sharks territory, only for the running to be too lateral and the error rate, relating mostly to the handling of the ball, way too high.
Then came a penalty that allowed them to set up a lineout, from which skipper Deon Fourie went over the line under a mass of bodies. The conversion from Pietersen was spot on, giving WP the lead with the clock winding down, but the game wasn’t over.
Another botched WP attempt to field a ball from the kick-off saw the ball slither out near their corner flag. The Sharks, with a new hooker on, for once carried off a perfect lineout, and the ball made its way to Riaan Viljoen, who aped Frederic Michalak in almost the same position at a similar stage of the match two weeks ago by slotting a drop-goal to regain the lead.
A kickable penalty attempt was presented to Pietersen after that, but he was wide with the attempt, and then came one of those long spells of patience from WP as they tried to build up for an attack after the hooter, but they never came close to setting up a scoring situation. Game, set and match to the Sharks.
It didn’t look like turning out that way in the first half. The Sharks started with good intensity at the kick-off, but they were quickly worn down by their own error rate, with Lourens van der Merwe, with his shrill blasts of the whistle, awarding six penalties against the visitors in the first 11 minutes.
As the game wore on though, it quickly became apparent that there was more to WP’s early superiority than just the referee’s officiating – they were the sharper and the more energetic team.
Unlike in the Super Rugby game between the two full-strength teams from the respective franchises two weeks ago, this time it was WP who came up trumps in the first-phase battle, particularly the lineouts, where visiting hooker Craig Burden had a bit of a mare in his attempts to find his jumpers.
By contrast the Province formation was impressively efficient if you consider they were without their two star locks.
But they were unable to shut out the game when they should have, and when the Sharks were presented with the opportunity to take the lead, they were imbued with enough guts and tenacity to carry them through and over the hurdle presented by travel fatigue for a well deserved win.
Sharks – Tries: Paul Jordaan, Craig Burden (2). Conversions: Meyer Bosman (2). Penalty: Bosman. Drop-goal: Bosman.
Western Province – Tries: Tiaan Liebenberg, Deon Fourie; Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2).
Penalties: Pietersen (3).