Sharks are the champs

2013-10-26 23:00

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Newlands proves a happy hunting ground for the KwaZulu-Natal side

History called on the Sharks to win a final away from home and, boy, did they respond to the call. After all, their first Currie Cup title was won against an arguably stronger Bulls outfit in 1990 at Loftus.

It was sweet revenge for last year’s gut-wrenching home defeat – and it was brutally avenged.

It was masterminded by a powerful forwards show and a once-in-a-lifetime performance from scrum half Charl McLeod, whose two tries will be measured in the same breath as Tony Watson’s legendary “nine-point try”.

McLeod was backed up by Pat Lambie’s boot, which accounted for 23 points. He could have added even more had he not missed three easy attempts in the first half, but he redeemed himself after last year’s performance.

He won the battle of the number 10s hands down, both from the tee and tactically. The last time the Sharks won a final away from home, in 1996, 33 points was also enough. So it seems it is their lucky number.

It was clear from the outset this would be a final like no other. The last final encounter between Western Province and the Sharks at Newlands in 2001 was only superseded by the 2005 Bulls vs Cheetahs final.

Not a lot of them have been able to match it in terms of quality, but this came very close.

The Sharks know how to win at Newlands, irrespective of the stage or the tournament, with their Super Rugby guise silencing a raucous capacity crowd last year.

It wasn’t different yesterday, with the visitors being reminded Kings Park was 1 642km away.

That didn’t deter them from hammering away at the Province defence in the first 20 minutes, with their own defence being very flat, a sign of Jake White’s rush-defence influence.

It pressured Demetri Catrakilis and whoever was at first receiver to think hastily and forget about support runners.

Their indecision left the channel open and led to the Sharks opening try via an intercept by McLeod.

It came against the run of play but it was pressure created by the Sharks defence that was rewarded.

It was all Western Province needed to catch a proper wake-up and it took them less than five minutes to respond in kind. Damian de Allende was on hand to finish the movement, which stemmed from the Sharks being muscled off their own ball.

It was the burly inside centre who narrowly failed to reel McLeod in. The passion in his celebration was cathartic – after all, he was only nine years old when Western Province last played a home Currie Cup final.

As with all cup finals, irrespective of sporting codes, starts are often paper fires that fizzle out in a strong headwind.

The game boiled down to a tactical battle to see which team would wilt first. Province was kicked into a position where mistakes were going to happen.

It was a pity Lambie could not convert all those opportunities, with three easy penalties missed. But it did nothing to help Province, as the Sharks were dominating everywhere.

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