A trench warfare win

2015-03-23 00:00

THE Sharks were good, bad and ugly but they were also exceptionally brave in holding on grimly for a bizarre 12-11 ­Super Rugby win over the Chiefs at a wet and windy King’s Park on Saturday night.

The tempest was both on and off the field as the players’ discipline deteriorated along with the weather, and a combination of the two turned what had promised to be a fast, free-flowing contest into a simmering tactical dogfight.

In the space of 12 minutes midway through the first half, and with the scores locked at 3-3, the young Australian referee Angus Gardner — at 30 he was younger than a number of players he was trying to control — issued three red cards.

The first to see red was Chiefs hooker Hika Elliot who was sent off for bashing into the back of Beast Mtawarira’s head with his shoulder. Within moments the hot-headed Du Plessis had kicked out at Chiefs number eight Michael Leitch and was sent off, and 10 minutes later a second senior Sharks Springbok, centre Frans Steyn, was red-carded for a tip tackle on All Black flyhalf Aaron Cruden.

The Sharks were down to 13 and the Chiefs had 14 players, but referee Gardner’s brave calls were on the money, even in over-ruling TMO Marius Jonker’s suggestion that Steyn should only be yellow-carded.

Last night Du Plessis pleaded guilty to his charge of kicking an opponent and was banned for four weeks while the match commissioner also cited two more Chiefs for foul play. The remaining disciplinary hearings are expected to be held today.

Acting captain Pat Lambie, composed both in kicking at goal in the atrocious conditions and in leading his beleaguered troops, later praised the character of his players. He generously conceded that the wet conditions had helped his 13-man team in blunting the skills of the Chiefs, one of the most potent attacking units in Super Rugby. Lambie could, and should, wear the captain’s armband for the rest of the season.

The Chiefs, on the night, were poor, a pale imitation of the slick outfit which had impressed with their panache and accuracy on attack at Newlands a week earlier. Of course, the conditions were dreadful but so was their handling. The Chiefs’ error rate climbed in the face of superb Sharks defence and they could not take advantage of their superior numbers. Time and again they breached the stretched Sharks defence only to lose possession in promising situations.

“It was incredibly frustrating,” coach Dave Rennie remarked later. “We could just not hang on to the ball long enough.”

The Sharks, with only six forwards on the Chiefs’ ball, and seven when they had the feed, scrummed superbly while veterans Marco Wentzel, Mouritz Botha and Ryan Kankowski secured their lineout ball and were a nuisance on the Chiefs’ throw.

The red cards and the weather were the obvious features of the night but so was the character and tenacity of the Sharks. Scrumhalf Cobus Reinach finally came to life in this game, contributing on both attack and defence until he left the field late in the game after taking a knee to the back. Chiefs wing Tom Marshall was later cited and received an off-field yellow card for that.

But the heroes were in the depleted Sharks pack as Beast Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Wentzel and Kankowski stood up strongly while flank Marcell Coetzee did what he does best, knocking over anything that moved.

Their unluckiest player was flank Renaldo Bothma who had his neck wrung by Chiefs captain Liam Messam at a ruck and then immediately had to leave the field in a swap with replacement hooker Kyle Cooper who came on for his banished captain. (Messam was yesterday cited for throttling Bothma and will also face a disciplinary hearing).

The Sharks have major selection problems this week ahead of Saturday’s game against the Force. Springboks Lambie, who is nursing a groin strain, Reinach and Lwazi Mvovo have all played six games on the trot and are likely to be rested while Jannie du Plessis (shoulder) was injured on Saturday. The suspended Bismarck du Plessis will have a month on the sidelines and Steyn is waiting to hear his fate.

This dramatic one-point victory was a significant one for the Sharks but it came at a heck of a price.

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