Only huge upset can stop Sharks now as they move three points clear

2008-09-28 00:00

Disappointed Lions supporters would have cynically nominated their home team flyhalf Earl Rose as the Sharks’ man of the match after Saturday evening’s Currie Cup clash at Ellis Park.

The talented but unpredictable Rose, who gifted the Sharks two tries with injudicious chip kicks and missed most of his attempts at goal, had a day he will want to forget. But the Sharks had heroes of their own as their slickness and pace prevailed in an excellent 34-20 win.

Number eight Ryan Kankowski took the man-of-the-match award, but it might easily have gone to JP Pietersen. The two Springboks split a tight game wide open in the second half, either creating or scoring the second-half tries which carried the Sharks clear.

Kankowski, standing among the backs and showing remarkable pace, twice ran into outside gaps and fashioned tries for Pietersen and then replacement prop Deon Carstens. Pietersen, with an almost languid running style, but showing genuine pace, benefited from a loose Rose kick and produced his own chip-and-chase for his second try.

He also prevented a certain Lions try when, in a throwback to last year’s World Cup, he held up Lions replacement wing Ryno Benjamin over the Sharks’ line.

The Sharks’ victory has taken them three points clear at the top of the log and, barring a monumental upset against Griquas in Durban on Saturday, they will host a semi-final and, if they advance, the final at King’s Park.

Sharks coach John Plumtree, as usual, was keeping his feet on the ground.

“Yeah, it was a important win, but we did not play well in the first half,” he told The Witness yesterday. “We are playing like a good team, but not yet a champion one. We certainly were not as accurate as we should have been in the first half.”

Patience, said Plumtree, was the key. The Sharks trailed 8-3 at the break after Ruan Pienaar had missed two testing penalties and lively Lions wing Trompie Nontshinga ran through a soft tackle by fullback Stefan Terblanche to score the only try of the half.

“We were trying to take the ball wide to the wings too quickly and against organised defence,” said Plumtree, as he reflected on the first half.

The result was that the Sharks wasted a number of attacking chances while conceding a string of turnovers to keep the Lions in the contest.

“In the second half, we put things right and we were more patient, taking the ball through the phases,” said the Sharks coach.

Plumtree praised the brilliance of individual players, but said he was more concerned with the team effort.

“You cannot rely on individuals to bail you out of trouble. It should come from the team.”

The Sharks, he said, will not be looking to rest or rotate players for the final round robin game against Griquas in Durban on Saturday.

“The play-offs are a fortnight away and we want to build momentum. We’ll keep to the same 22 that went to Ellis Park.”

Flank Jean Deysel, another to have a major impact on Saturday’s game, took a heavy blow to the shin, but Plumtree expects him to be fit for the Griquas game.

John Smit, the Springbok captain and hooker, with a smile and an immediate tighthead, finally returned to action six minutes before the final whistle, with the contest already over. He is likely to play the rest of the Currie Cup off the bench, but his presence in the squad and his experience is a further boost for the Sharks.

A fortnight ago, the Sharks beat the Cheetahs to break a 10-match, five-year losing sequence; on Saturday, they ended a run of Currie Cup defeats at Ellis Park that stretches back to 1996, the year they last won a trophy. And that is the rather large monkey they now want desperately to shake from their backs.

Scorers:

Lions. Tries: Trompie Nontshinga, Heinke van der Merwe, Ernst Joubert. Conversion: Louis Strydom. Penalty: Earl Rose

Sharks: Tries: JP Pietersen (2), Deon Carstens, Jean Deysel. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (4) Penalties: Pienaar (2).

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