Fearless Sharks stampede into semi-finals to face NSW Waratahs

2008-05-18 00:00

IT has been a while coming, and coach Dick Muir blames himself, but the Sharks finally flourished at the weekend to end third on the Super 14 log and sweep into a semi-final clash against the NSW Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.

When the dust finally settled on a weekend of upsets, the Sharks went into their game against the Chiefs needing to win with four tries or by 18 points. They did both, scoring seven tries for the bonus point and winning by 22 points.

The Sharks negotiated a tricky period in the 10 minutes either side of half-time, when the plucky Chiefs fought back to trail by three points (21-18), but this time there was no denying the Sharks and they had their four tries after an hour and then stretched away to win 47-25.

The other semi-final will be between the two New Zealand teams, the Crusaders and the Hurricanes, in Christchurch, after the Stormers, in beating the Lions, failed by one try (a bonus point) to join the Sharks in the last four. King’s Park could host a second successive final if the Sharks and Hurricanes win their semi-finals.

The crowd of 42 000 — the biggest of the season — warmly endorsed Saturday night’s efforts with a series of rousing Mexican waves as the clock wound down and the Sharks, on the back of the seven tries, a strong forward display and an improving backline, will go to Sydney with their heads held high.

Sharks supporters have waited all season for the talented team to blossom and Muir said he will take responsibility for that.

“I think I was too conservative, too worried about the high humidity and a wet ball, in those early weeks. My one regret this season is that I did not respect the players enough and allow them to express themselves more. Instead, I placed too much emphasis on the win and I was too conservative.”

Muir said he was delighted with the rugby the Sharks played, the quality and strong support play shown in the scoring of a number of long distance tries and the defence against dangerous attackers who kept running at them until the end.

“I was never worried about the final result, even at 21-18, but thought that if we scored the four tries we needed we would win anyway.”

But Muir, with good reason, is wary of the Waratahs, adding that it is the more difficult semi-final.

“The Waratahs are the one team that outplayed us this season and we have to front up at the breakdown and improve our kicking game to beat them.

“I think the Crusaders are vulnerable at the moment and the biggest challenge of the season is coming in our semi-final in Sydney.”

What brought a smile to Muir’s face was the impact the backs had on the game, and he paid tribute to the “amazing job” that Ruan Pienaar performed at flyhalf, the value of scrumhalf Rory Kockott’s sniping play against a rush Waratahs defence and the influence of Adrian Jacobs in midfield.

The impressive, fearless Bismarck du Plessis, a hooker who keeps popping up at every corner, was an obvious man of the match, but veteran fullback Stefan Terblanche remains the form fullback in South Africa.

His positional play was excellent, he was safe under the high ball, his line-kicking was accurate and his corner flagging twice saved certain tries when the Chiefs were at their most threatening.

While all the Sharks contributed to the win, it was their scrummaging that set the mood from the start.

“We were vulnerable in the scrum,” said Chiefs coach Ian Foster, “and credit to the Sharks for taking advantage.”

Foster would not be drawn on predicting a result in Sydney, but said that the Sharks “with a hard, competitive, physical edge are a very dangerous team”.

“We have battled with injuries and again had our chances, but the Sharks had the energy and the desire and took theirs.”

In the Sharks’ high risk and high tempo game, the blistering pace of the Sharks loose forwards, Ryan Kankowski and Jacques Botes, the high work-rate of the pack and the strong impact of Jean Deysel in the final quarter were important factors in the win.

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