It came as a surprise to some, but the Sharks destruction of Western Province was well planned and brilliantly executed. By KEN BORLAND.
Lock Pieter-Steph du Toit announced himself on the big stage as he spearheaded the Sharks’ magnificent 33-19 victory over Western Province in the Absa Currie Cup final at Newlands on Saturday.
The Sharks were always ahead on the scoreboard and the victory margin actually flattered Western Province, so comprehensively were they outplayed. Pat Lambie missed 11 points at goal and the Sharks had two tries disallowed due to infringements in the build-up picked up by the TMO.
The visitors won because they played textbook finals rugby and the pressure they exerted on Western Province was suffocating and unrelenting. Du Toit led the way as he dominated the lineouts, was vigorous in defence and was also prominent with ball in hand in a rampaging display by the 21-year-old that should ensure he gets on the plane to Europe as the favourite to wear the Springbok number five jersey on their end-of-year tour.
Western Province barely fired a shot in the shootout, even though they trailed by just three points (16-19) early in the second half. It was an afternoon of immense disappointment for them and their vociferous fans.
So much emphasis had been placed on Gio Aplon and Cheslin Kolbe cutting the Sharks to shreds with dazzling runs from deep, but against a stern defensive line they could never get far. In fact, Western Province’s attempts to run the ball from their own half invariably led to them conceding points as the Sharks thoroughly dominated territory with an outstanding kicking game by Pat Lambie, Charl McLeod and SP Marais.
It was like bringing a knife to a gunfight, as Western Province naively thought they didn’t need to bother with kicks of their own to counter the Sharks’ tactic, and they often turned over possession in compromising positions.
They became increasingly rattled and veterans Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger had strangely subdued games as they could neither compose nor lift their team-mates. It all came to a head in the 71st minute when Western Province wasted a last chance to put some pressure on the Sharks as a rolling maul rumbled over the tryline, but Michael Rhodes was penalised for getting Bismarck du Plessis in a headlock.
The Sharks were leading 30-19 at that stage and, clearing their lines, were able to steal a sixth Western Province lineout ball to stay in opposition territory, Lambie adding a late penalty to ensure they claimed possession of Sir Donald Currie’s urn for the seventh time.
Western Province’s failure to control possession at the kickoffs was also a major factor in their defeat and, with the Sharks constantly kicking towards the diminutive Kolbe and Aplon, they were forced to try to use other players to catch the ball. At times two players went for the same catch and Western Province just ended up looking disorganised in the aerial battle.
Scrumhalf McLeod was another Sharks star, scoring two tries and providing quick ball from the rucks as well as kicking brilliantly, especially with his little chip kicks from the base.
His opposite number, Louis Schreuder, failed to fulfill his sweeping duties and the Sharks gained plenty of momentum from those chip-kicks. Schreuder also contrived to gift early control to the Sharks when he crabbed across the field and then threw a long pass to flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis. McLeod anticipated superbly, dashed forward and claimed the intercept, running 65 metres to score the opening try in the fifth minute.
The only area where the Sharks failed to get the better of Western Province was in the scrums, where their decision to gamble on Jannie du Plessis did not pay off, and the Springbok tighthead returned to the replacements’ bench after 45 minutes.
Western Province’s only try came after they put the Sharks under huge pressure at a ninth-minute scrum, openside flank Deon Fourie hassling McLeod to turn over possession and inside centre Damian de Allende targeting Jannie du Plessis’s bad hand to ghost through the defence with ease.
Francois Steyn, whose sturdy defending did much to control the midfield channel, was straight in on the ball to win the turnover and a penalty as Aplon tried to counter-attack in the 21st minute, Lambie slotting the kick to stretch the Sharks’ lead to 13-7.
Although Catrakilis, who succeeded with all of his kicks at goal, added three more penalties to the Western Province tally, the Sharks began to impose themselves more and more. The home side’s lineout woes meant they were trapped in their own half and their ball-carriers were more often than not on the back foot.
Du Toit and Bismarck du Plessis combined to smash Catrakilis to the ground in the 47th minute and, although Lwazi Mvovo’s touchdown was disallowed because the Sharks’ hooker had stormed up from an offsides position, Western Province’s flyhalf left the field, dazed.
The Sharks win was also a major triumph for inexperienced new coaches Brad MacLeod-Henderson and Sean Everitt, who took over at the start of the campaign in the most uncertain of circumstances, especially when they lost their opening match to Griquas at home. The tactical genius of director of rugby, Brendan Venter, was also apparent in the way the Sharks strangled Western Province with their “subdue-and-penetrate” approach.
But Venter, an exciting centre in his playing days, also sanctions running the ball when the time is right and the Sharks’ second try was one of the best of the season.
Wing Odwa Ndungane’s aerial skills ensured Western Province’s occasional kicks were ineffective against the Sharks and he sparked the counter with a great take in the 58th minute. Du Toit and outside centre, Louis Ludik, were also prominent, before Bismarck du Plessis, with a wonderful offload to flank Willem Alberts, allowed the Sharks to punch through the middle. Flyhalf Lambie, ruling the field in general play despite his goal-kicking woes, then cut back inside and only a great tackle by Kolbe stopped him from scoring. But McLeod was on hand to pick the ball up from the ruck and dive over for his second try.
Lambie also slotted two drop goals that ensured the Sharks kept the scoreboard ticking over and it’s reassuring to know that, come the big occasion, the 23-year-old can step up even though he has seen precious little game time while with the Springboks.
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee gave fulsome praise to the Sharks after the match.
“One has to give credit to the Sharks because they were outstanding. Tactically they were better and they had worked out our defence system.
“Credit to the way they applied themselves and the effective way in which they disrupted our game. We made far too many unforced errors and that resulted in soft penalties. And then often after the restart we would give away another penalty. This must have been our worst game this season.
“When we tried to play or build continuity they suffocated us. Their lineouts were much better than ours,” Coetzee said.
For Western Province, there is the bitter realisation that instead of scaling the heights of a great mountain and winning back-to-back Currie Cup titles and completing an unbeaten campaign, they have fallen short and just ended up on top of a knoll by topping the log.
They – and more importantly their supporters that put such unrealistic pressures on the team – need to realise that however pert the attacking skills are of the likes of Aplon and Kolbe, they are not going to dismantle a well-organised, ruthless defence from their own half.
Rugby has changed, the legendary running style of the 1980s Streeptruie doesn’t work against structured defences that are vastly improved in the professional era. It seems there needs to be a coup in the way the Newlands faithful think about the game. DM
Photo: The Sharks were crowned the 2013 Currie Cup champions following their 33-19 win over Western Province at Newlands, Saturday, 26 October 2013. Picture: Anton Geyser / SASPA/SAPA
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