Sharks Force Aussies home

2008-02-16 00:00

THE Sharks breathed a mighty sigh of relief at the final whistle after scrambling their way to a slip-shod 17-10 win over the Western Force, in their Super 14 opener at King’s Park last night.

The Sharks, playing a tactical, kicking game, were in control 11 minutes into the second half when fullback Stefan Terblanche scored their second try to provide them with a 14-3 cushion. But the Force, playing the width of the field and finding some possession, hit back in the final quarter as the Sharks, ringing the changes, lost their structure and poise.

When reserve Force hooker Luke Holmes scored after a wild Ryan Kankowski tap-back from a kick, the Sharks were only 14-10 ahead with 15 minutes remaining and the Perth franchise looking the sharper team.

But the Sharks held on grimly with the fresh legs of the reserve players, and particularly lock Albert van den Berg who saved a certain try with a corner flag tackle, helping to cover the many defensive holes.

Frans Steyn, with a prodigious penalty from 55 metres, gave the Sharks a seven-point advantage (17-10) with three minutes remaining, and the Sharks were able to hang on for their win.

Sharks captain Johann Muller said that the Force had placed his team under severe pressure.

“The Force are a fantastic team and they came at us hard. We lost too much possession, but I’m proud of the character our guys showed in hanging on for this win.”

Matt Giteau, who took over the captaincy of the Force from the indisposed Nathan Sharpe, praised the Sharks team.

“The ball was slippery, but the Sharks adapted better to the conditions. Their kicking game was also superior and they deserved their win. We had our chances in the second half, but we just couldn’t finish.”

The first half was a scrappy affair, as both sides battled with a wet ball on a humid evening and play was frequently punctuated by handling errors.

The Sharks started with Steyn at flyhalf — with Terblanche at fullback — as Frenchman Freddie Michalak failed a late fitness test, but it was how the Sharks had practised all week. The Force took the field without lock Sharpe, who had gone down with food poisoning.

The Sharks, dominant in the lineout and with the 37-year-old Johan Ackermann particularly impressive, had much the better of the first half, but they could not maintain possession through the phases, they took the wrong attacking options, twice ignoring overlap situations, and kept dropping the ball. They were fortunate that the Force, with less possession, did much the same.

The Sharks’ tactical approach was similar to the one they used at the start of last season, as they kept the Force under pressure in their own half with long kicks by Terblanche, Steyn and Ruan Pienaar. The Force, briefly into Sharks territory, opened the scoring when Cameron Shepherd kicked a long-range penalty after 18 minutes, but seven minutes later, the Sharks hit back as they shelved any attempt to run with the ball, by mounting a driving maul which carried the ball 25 metres before flank Jacque Botes burst over to score. Scrumhalf Pienaar converted comfortably (7-3).

The Force defence held firm for the rest of the half, but certainly the Sharks should have translated their possession and territory of the first half into more points.

There was reward 11 minutes into the second half when a quickly run free kick by scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, and an excellent tap-on by centre Brad Barritt, provided the space for Terblanche to dummy his way over and the Sharks had some breathing space at 14-3. But the Holmes try and a Giteau conversion ensured a tense final quarter for the Sharks players and their crowd.

The Sharks’ heroes were largely among the forwards, with prop Beast Mtawarira making the best tackles of the night, Ackermann underlining his all-round value and hooker Bismarck du Plessis displaying his enormous strength, if not his ball retention skills. For the rest, it was largely an evening of kick-and-chase-and-tackle.

More will be seen of the attacking potential of the Sharks backs in the weeks ahead, against different teams and in conditions which encourage a more expansive, high-tempo approach. But last night, testing the waters at the start of a long campaign and adapting to the new laws, was all about grinding out a win, no matter how ugly, against a team which had beaten them well last season. The Sharks and coach Dick Muir will be relieved that at least they achieved that objective.

Sharks — tries by Jacques Botes and Stefan Terblanche; penalty by Frans Steyn and two conversions by Ruan Pienaar.

Force — try by Luke Holmes, penalty by Cameron Shepherd and conversion by Matt Giteau.

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