Sharks produce the required response
Jake White appealed to his team to respond to defeat by taking out the frustration on the Waratahs, and he got what he asked for as his men powered to a 32-10 Vodacom Super Rugby win at Growthpoint Kings Park on Saturday.
It meant that the Sharks bounced back from their opening defeat of the season with a comprehensive performance that will lift the confidence levels again as the Durbanites head into their second bye week. It also ensured that they remain unbeaten at home, something that is becoming crucially important during a year where home ground advantage appears to be everything.
White said beforehand that while he would love his team to win in style while running the ball and scoring tries, he would also be happy with any kind of win. It turned out to be “any kind of win”. This wasn’t a memorable match for the Kings Park faithful, but it wasn’t for want of trying by a Sharks team that from the outset gave an indication of why White had emphasised pace at the back and mobility at the front when he made his selections.
The Sharks were less like fish and more like angry bees as they swarmed all over the Waratahs in the early stages, and their efforts to quicken their game from previous weeks appeared to take the visitors by surprise. However, while the Sharks were eager to attack, it was a game dominated by two strong and highly physical defensive systems, and the Waratahs prevented the Sharks shaking loose.
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The bruising exchanges led to much off the ball niggle and it was an ill-tempered game with the referee at times battling to take control.
The physical storming defensive effort of the Sharks took a strong toll on the Waratahs, and appeared to sap their confidence when it came to moving the ball. Here it could probably be said that White copied his former team, the Brumbies, in scripting this performance.
When the Brumbies beat the Waratahs in Canberra two weeks ago the Brumbies’ line-speed on defence and quickly advancing tacklers appeared to throw the Waratahs out of their stride. It was effectively what won them the game. Ditto here, with several promising Waratahs attacks down the back coming to messy ends as, repeatedly, players received man and ball at the same time.
It wasn’t just man and ball, it was ball and missile, for the Sharks tacklers were determined to smash the Waratahs back, something they mostly succeeded in doing, the ball often being flung back wildly as a result.
The Sharks might have questioned their defensive system early in the game though, with a slippery run from Wallaby outside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper seeing the Waratahs move from inside their own half to metres from the Sharks line before Ashley-Cooper was finally scragged by the cover defence. The pressure exerted did net the Waratahs a penalty, and Brendan Foley was on target to make it 3-0.
The Waratahs flyhalf was however to miss two relatively easy kicks later in the half, and that contributed to the Sharks taking a handy 12-3 lead to the break as Fred Zeilinga kicked over three penalties and Frans Steyn being on target with one of those rocket launchers he is renowned for from his side of halfway.
In fact it was Steyn’s long-range kick that put the Sharks more than a score ahead for the first time three minutes before the break, but while it was nip and tuck on the scoreboard before then, from the vantage point of the Kings Park press box it always looked as though the Sharks, apart from being bees, were like a python constricting its prey as they were kept rooted in their own half and had the energy snuffed out of them.
The Waratahs don’t kick much these days, and White’s approach in this game made them pay for that. It wasn’t though until Waratahs captain Dave Dennis was sin-binned in the second half that the Sharks really took control, with the pack responding immediately to the advantage in numbers by surging over the line with a driving maul that secured the first try of the game.
Ryan Kankowski was credited with the touch-down as the Sharks effectively made sure of the win, something that was further confirmed when Zeilinga kicked another penalty to make it 22-3. Then Keegan Daniel, in his first appearance of the season from the replacement’s bench, put the icing on the cake with a second try that Zeilinga converted from near the touchline.
Zeilinga can feel happy with his first start as a replacement for Patrick Lambie, with the hard working Sharks forwards laying a platform for him to feast on as he dictated play both with his kicking and running game. His place-kicking was on target too, with the flyhalf ending with a personal haul of 19 points through five penalties and two conversions.
That performance will give coach White confidence too, and although the Waratahs did score a late consolation try to Brendan Foley, it was the Sharks who had the last say in the scoring when Zeilinga drummed over a penalty on the hooter.
Cell C SharksTries: Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (2). Penalties: Zeilinga (5), Frans Steyn.
WaratahsTry: Bernard Foley. Conversions: Foley. Penalty: Foley.