Fresh strategies help dominant Sharks bring coveted cup back home

2013-10-28 00:00

THE highly-charged Sharks, tactically aware, physically superior and saving their very best till last, regained the Currie Cup title by beating strongly fancied Western Province 33-19 in front of a capacity Newlands crowd on Saturday evening.

The underrated Sharks, in their fourth successive final, repeated their heroics of 2010 to return the cup to the King’s Park trophy cabinet after an absence of two years. Again the strong favourites — and their backers — were left munching on humble pie.

It was an exact reversal of the 2012 final when the strongly fancied Sharks, also in their own back yard, were left with egg on their faces after being dumped by a young, fired-up Province outfit.

What was surprising was how few pundits, in and out of the Newlands media box, gave the Sharks a sniff in this final. The Sharks pack contained four current Springboks and they had 11 internationally capped players spread through the team. Bismarck du Plessis was at hooker, Frans Steyn was at inside centre and Pat Lambie was the flyhalf. Yet many experts dismissed them as no-hopers and, my word, did they thrive in the role of underdog.

The Sharks, in spite of the week’s disruptions, were superbly prepared. Their territory-based game plan, the variety of their tactical kicking and their relentless defence, worked a treat.

“The Sharks had done their homework and they took us out of our comfort zone,” Province coach Allister Coetzee said.

“I now know how the Sharks felt when we surprised them in Durban last year.”

Young Sharks coaches Brad Macleod-Henderson and Sean Everitt, with puppeteer Brendan Venter out of sight but pulling the strings, implemented a plan. It was built on applying fierce pressure, both by kicking deep and by launching an aerial assault to test the relatively small Gio Aplon and Cheslin Kolbe under the high ball.

The alert Charl McLeod, who scored both Sharks’ tries, also constantly found space with his short chip kicks over the shallow-lining Province backs. The result was that Province spent the evening scrambling back into their own half where they were quickly closed down by the smothering, advancing Sharks defence.

All this was made possible by the superb Sharks forwards who tore into tackles, bullied the breakdown and, surprisingly, beat Eben Ezebeth and company at the lineout. The result was that the imposing Duane Vermeulen and Etzebeth, on their heels, were never able to impose their physicality on the game.

In contrast, the towering, man-of-the-match Pieter-Steph du Toit, who has just turned 21, made a massive impact, winning lineouts, stealing Province ball, taking kick-offs and making tackles. If he can steer clear of injury, he is destined for greatness.

Flanks Willem Alberts and Marcell Coetzee, along with inside centre Frans Steyn, were also confrontational, knocking Province back on the gameline. Meanwhile McLeod, the composed Lambie and fullback SP Marais kept driving the Sharks forward with their excellent kicking game.

Province could not break the shackles. The Newlands crowd expected Province to win by running in tries but, in spite of the hype and the presence of Aplon and Kolbe, they have battled to do that all season, scoring the second lowest number of tries in the competition. Their outside runners did threaten on occasions, breaking the first line of defence, only to be felled by the Sharks’ cover.

They went to the final unbeaten because they have defended resolutely all season, won territory with their strong pack and Demetri Catrakilis has kicked their points. On Saturday they had neither the possession nor the field position to play their usual game.

The margin of victory was indeed flattering to Province. Lambie missed four relatively easy kicks at goal and the Sharks were denied a third try when the TMO found Bismarck du Plessis off-side at the back of an earlier ruck.

The Sharks led from the start as Lambie goaled a penalty and, after five minutes, McLeod intercepted a long Louis Schreuder pass to run 60 metres to score (10-0). WP struck back with a try by Damian de Allende, who again exposed Jannie du Plessis’s limitations on defence. Lambie missed three kicks at goal but he kicked two others and a neat drop for the Sharks to lead 19-13 at the break.

Lambie kicked a second drop and he and Demetri Catrakilis traded penalties before the Sharks produced a superb team try to open up the blindside for McLeod to cross for a 30-19 lead going into the final quarter.

Province finally did exert some pressure on the Sharks line, setting up attacking lineouts with penalties. However, the defence held before replacement Michael Rhodes’s necklock on Bismarck du Plessis won the Sharks a penalty to end the siege and minutes later Lambie goaled a 45-metre (33-19) to complete the scoring.


Western Province 19 (13) – Tries: Damian de Allende. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (3), Kurt Coleman.

Sharks 33 (19) - Tries: Charl McLeod (2). Conversions: Pat Lambie. Penalties: Lambie (5). Drop Goals: Lambie (2).

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