Sharks break long Free State hoodoo

2008-09-14 00:00

Coach Naka Drotske, without a hint of irony, bemoaned the Free State Cheetahs’ lack of depth after the Sharks came away from their Currie Cup game with a 22-10 in a Durban gale at King’s Park on Saturday evening.

As well he might, of course. The Sharks’ depth of talent was a significant factor in their win and four Free Staters — Ruan Pienaar, Francois Steyn and the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie — help provide it.

The Sharks’ win ended a run of 10 successive Currie Cup defeats — stretching back over five years — against Free State.

“It’s a relief to get that monkey off our back,” said Sharks coach Plumtree.

“It was not easy for the players to get up again a week after beating the Blue Bulls but I’m proud of the way they did. The plan was to play into the left-hand corner in the second half and pin the Cheetahs in their own quarter and it worked well.”

The Sharks, struggling to handle the wind, referee Willie Roos and the fired-up Free Staters, were under pressure in the opening quarter but they gradually took charge and by the second half were dominant.

But the Free Staters, back in their half for long periods, refused to buckle and they conceded only one try in the second half.

“Some of our decision-making on attack … cost us a bonus point try,” said Plumtree. At the moment that point doesn’t bug me but I hope it does not come back and haunt us at the end (when the play-offs are decided).”

The Sharks almost certainly sealed a home semi-final with the win. Even if they lose to the Lions at Ellis Park (on September 27), five-point victories over the Falcons in Brakpan this Saturday and Griquas, at King’s Park on October 4, will leave them with 52 points — out of reach of all the teams on the log except the Blue Bulls.

Plumtree was delighted with the Sharks’s defence and their tactical kicking in the second half and in the most unpleasant conditions.

“Our defence was really excellent. The Cheetahs hardly made any line breaks and I was pleased with our set pieces which worked beautifully.”

A rare lineout error from a wayward throw in the wind from Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis gifted Cheetahs flank Juan Smith their only try, but the Sharks improved from that moment. The jumpers — first Steven Sykes and then replacement Albert van den Berg — took their own ball, and Johann Muller pressured the Free State lineout into a series of second-half errors.

The Free Staters conceded they had been out-thought in the second half.

“The Sharks used the conditions [the howling wind which buffeted the players and the spectators] very cleverly,” said assistant coach Hawies Fourie. “Their kicking game was excellent and they out-manoeuvred us.”

Drotske has no doubt where his problems lie ahead of their crunch game against the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein this Saturday.

“Our defence was awesome but we have lost backline depth and lack confidence on attack. That’s something we have to get right quickly or else we will be in trouble [in making the semi-finals].”

Plumtree would not be drawn on the rulings of referee Roos.

“He has been out of the game for a long time with injury so I suppose he was a bit rusty. There were a number of 50:50 calls.”

But if last weekend’s win over the Bulls was highlighted by Keegan Daniel’s late individual try, Saturday’s contest will be remembered for the drop.

Francois Steyn, shortly before half-time, fielded a Free State restart on his own 10-metre line, advanced a couple of paces and then hammered a drop kick of close to 60 metres into the wind. On a still, clear highveld day, it would have been remarkable; at sea level and into a strong, swirling wind, it was, as Plumtree later remarked, “freaky”.

“I’ve seen him bang over five in a row like that at practice and I don’t know of anyone in world rugby who can do that. But don’t write all that. We don’t want him overdoing it [drop-kicking].”

Plumtree said he would be resting, among others, hooker Bismarck du Plessis and fullback Stefan Terblanche against the Falcons on Saturday.

He will also be hoping that Frederic Michalak will not be cited for a dangerous tackle on Meyer Bosman, which looked worse on the slow motion replay than it did live. He will also be without prop Tendai Mtawarira, who aggravated a groin injury after coming off the bench, and Odwa Ndungane, assisted off the field after half-an-hour and replaced by Adrian Jacobs.

“Odwa took a heavy bump to the hip but it is not serious,” said Plumtree.

But Plumtree, in contrast to Drotske, has the necessary back-up as we saw when he dipped into the reserves on Saturday and added Jacobs, Mtawarira, Van den Berg and Kankowski to the mix.

He will be encoraged by the improved form of Wayon Murray, the contribution of the Du Plessis brothers and Jacques Botes and the strength of Steyn, on attack and defence, at inside centre.

In other Saturday games, Western Province continued their late surge with a 92-15 win over the Falcons — as lock Andries Bekker scored five tries and then was retired by his coach before he could break a try-scoring record — and the Lions beat Griquas 41-20

Weekend results

Sharks 22 Free State Cheetahs 10

Sharks: Tries by Deon Carstens, Steven Sykes, Keegan Daniel. Conversions : Ruan Pienaar (2). Drop by Francois Steyn. Cheetahs: Try by Juan Smith Penalty and conversion by Tewis de Bruyn

Lions 41 Griqualand West 20

Lions: Tries: Michael Killian (3), Ross Geldenhuys, Cobus Grobbelaar, Doppies le Grange. Conversions: Earl Rose (3), Louis Strydom. Penalty: Rose. Griquas: Try: Hans van Dyk, Jacques Lombaard. Conversions: Conrad Barnard (2). Penalties: Barnard (2).

WP 92 Falcons 15.

WP: Tries: Andries Bekker (5), Schalk Brits, Sireli Naqelevuki (2), Luke Watson, Tonderai Chavhanga, Jean de Villiers, Wylie Human, Francois Louw and Bolla Conradie. Conversions: Peter Grant (9) and Joe Pietersen (2). Falcons: Try: Ernie Kruger (2). Conversion: Poerie van Rooyen. Penalty: Van Rooyen.

Friday

Blue Bulls 69 Boland Cavaliers 19

Upcoming Fixtures (home team first)

Friday

Province v Griquas 7.10 pm

Saturday

Falcons v Sharks 3 pm

Boland v Lions 3 pm

Cheetahs v Bulls 5.05 pm

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