Sharks ‘below par’, but achieved their objectives at Newlands

2009-02-15 00:00

IT was just about the perfect day for the Sharks at Newlands on Saturday when they opened their Super 14 campaign with a 20-15 win over a dangerous Stormers outfit.

The Sharks, underdone and clearly lacking in match sharpness, were certainly below their best, yet achieved their objectives, winning the most awkward of away games while reintroducing a number of ring rusty players to action and dodging further injury.

John Plumtree, the head coach, was delighted with the win, but conceded that the Sharks’ display was below par and “we will get much better over the next few weeks”.

The Sharks trailed 10-0 at the break before dominating the second half when they out-scored the tiring Stormers by 20 points to five.

“We were definitely rusty in the first half and weren’t accurate at the breakdown and in our tactical kicking,” Plumtree told The Witness from Cape Town early yesterday.

But the Sharks coach said he was not concerned.

“The plan was to wear down the Stormers physically and then up the ante after about an hour.

And that’s just what happened, that’s when the Stormers’ heads dropped and that’s when we scored our two tries.”

Plumtree said the Sharks had then let themselves down in the closing minutes when they let the Stormers back in with a Peter Grant try (20-15).

“Near the end our discipline was poor at the breakdown and we gave away a string of penalties and free kicks. If Grant had kicked that relatively easy conversion off his try, they could still have drawn the game with a late penalty — so we were lucky there.

“We certainly were not accurate enough in both attack and defence, but we will improve over the next few weeks.”

Certainly the Sharks’ first-time tackling was disappointing and they were outmuscled at the breakdown on occasions.

The loss of Jean de Villiers following a knock to the head early in the second half certainly helped the Sharks’ cause and the Stormers appeared rudderless without their captain and most dangerous back. But there were already signs that the Sharks forwards, stronger in the scrums and pressuring in the lineout, were starting to take charge, and they controlled territory and possession for the rest of the game.

Rassie Erasmus, the Stormers coach, said that the loss of De Villiers had affected the team’s composure and confidence.

“It took the team 15 to 20 minutes to settle after Jean’s injury, and by then the Sharks had clawed their way back,” said Erasmus.

“You’d have to say a lack of composure and poor decision-making cost us the game, but the Sharks were the better side and deserved to win.”

The Sharks’ obvious man-of-the-match was alert scrumhalf Rory Kockott who outplayed sluggish opposite number Ricky Januarie. Kockott buzzed about the field, sniping away from the base of the scrum, keeping the Stormers’ loose trio honest and then producing the decisive break from deep in his own half to spark an 80-metre move that ended with fullback Stefan Terblanche running in the Sharks’ second try.

Kockott also took over the goal-kicking from Ruan Pienaar, who had missed three difficult first-half penalties in the swirling south-easter, and the composed young scrumhalf proceeded to land two testing penalties and both conversions.

Stormers flank Luke Watson — on from the replacement bench, and again to boos — made an immediate impact while Grant, who ran through a Pienaar tackle for his try, had a strong game at flyhalf. But, in the final analysis, the Stormers were denied possession by the Sharks pack and played far too much of the game in their own half.

Plumtree said there were no injury problems after the game apart from Carsten’s light hamstring strain and Daniel’s cut lip. Ahead lie the lively Lions at King’s Park on Saturday and then the four-match tour of Australasia.

The Newlands win is but a small step, but at least means the Sharks have started in positive mood and with their heads high.

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