‘Bravest of wins’ to floor champs Reds

2012-03-19 00:00

IT was, in the words of former Springbok and Sharks captain John Smit, “a very special win, one that players, coaches and supporters savour for a long time.”

Smit, at King’s Park on Saturday to promote his farewell match — a charity game between a World XV and the Sharks on June 22 — was reflecting on the Sharks’ extraordinary fightback when they somehow picked themselves off the floor to knock over the title-holding Reds 27-22 in their Super Rugby game.

The two teams made light of the dreadful conditions — the swirling rain, a wet ball and a string of injuries — to produce a fascinating, fluctuating, high-paced and occasionally controversial contest.

One sensed that when centre JP Pietersen, a central figure in both their attack and defence, pulled up lame in the warm-up that this was not to be the Sharks’ day and the lashing rain, an early injury to lock Steve Sykes and the first-half domination of the Reds appeared to confirm it.

The Reds, dominant in the scrum and line­out, on the front foot, running the ball into space and with scrumhalf Will Genia finding yawning gaps around the fringes, were on their way to a landslide victory in the first half. They led 17-0 after half-an-hour and the Sharks, simply not in the contest, were lucky to have nought.

But with half-time looming — and as if someone had waved a wand — the mood and tempo of the game changed, referee Jonathan Kaplan’s penalties suddenly started going to the Sharks, and the Reds, perhaps believing that it was all too easy, lost their momentum and shape.

They were not helped when Wallaby wing Digby Ioane was yellow-carded for a tip tackle on Marcell Coetzee and it should have been red as he drove the Sharks flank into the ground. But he has now been cited and faces suspension.

The transformation in the flow of the game could not have been as dramatic as adversity brought out the very best in the young Sharks. The Super Rugby champions were outscored 27-5 over the next 46 minutes as the Sharks hassled, harassed and hurried their way to the most unlikely of wins.

“It was a special performance and the players showed great character, guts and commitment,” said coach John Plumtree.

“The Reds were playing so well. They were accurate, put us under pressure and were a handful to defend against.”

Replacement lock Jandre Marais’s try on half-time, he said, boosted the confidence of the Sharks going into half-time.

“The whole game was characterised by some outstanding attack and gutsy defence from both sides.”

On four occasions the Reds conceded penalties under their posts and captain Keegan Daniel bravely called for scrums in search of a try. Fittingly, it was he who finally crossed to give the Sharks the lead for the first time 13 minutes into the second half.

Plumtree refused to single out players.

“This was a special team effort, the bravest of wins.”

Du Plessis, Daniel, flank Marcell Coetzee, McLeod and Lwazi Mvovo were promiment in the massive physical effort which denied a well-equipped Reds outfit.

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie said his team has suffered from injury to their two playmakers, and goalkickers, Ben Lucas and Mike Harris which resulted in Genia shifting to flyhalf for the final quarter.

“But credit to the Sharks. Our set piece was good, but they would not go away and they did damage at the breakdown. I was happy that we kept trying to the final whistle.”

But, then, so did the Sharks.

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