Sharks edge home after ‘dogfight’ with Lions

2009-10-05 00:00

IT was to be a Sharks’ celebration, an evening of attacking play laced with tries, but turned into “a dogfight”, in the words of head coach John Plumtree, as his team edged home 19-17 against an accomplished Lions outfit in the weekend Currie Cup match at King’s Park.

The good news is that the win secured the Sharks a home Currie Cup semi-final; the bad news is their inability, by some distance, to secure the four tries for a bonus point has dropped them second to Western Province on the log. The repercussions are profound. Unless the Lions reproduce their heroics against Western Province at Ellis Park on Saturday, the Sharks will stay second on the log and face the third-placed Blue Bulls in the semi-finals of the Currie Cup. Western Province, in turn, will probably be up against Free State at Newlands in their play-off and will also host the final if they win.

It was the most frustrating of evenings for Plumtree and the 24 000 King’s Park crowd as the Sharks’ attacking edge was constantly blunted by the willing Lions, who produced their best showing of the season. The Sharks, instead of chasing a bonus point try, gratefully took Ruan Pienaar’s 72nd minute penalty, which turned a 17-16 deficit into a scrambling two-point win.

The Sharks, largely toothless on attack, could cross for only one try, significantly on half-time when the Lions were a man short after lock Nico Luus was yellow-carded and hooker Bismarck du Plessis scored from a lineout drive.

For the rest, it was all the boot with Pienaar succeeding with all four kicks (three penalties and a conversion) and flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez dropping a neat goal.

“You can say it was because of a Bok management instruction that Ruan Pienaar rather than Hernandez took the kicks,” Plumtree said with a smile, “but the real reason was that Hernandez has been battling with a back injury.”

The Sharks backs, admittedly often off a static forward base, were too lateral in their approach, moving the ball across-field and providing easy pickings for hungry Lions defenders. Their most dangerous attacks came from the counter-attacking of fullback Stefan Terblanche, but the direct style of players like Jean Deysel, Riaan Swanepoel and even Rory Kockott is missing and they seldom broke the gainline.

They also battled in the lineouts with Bismarck du Plessis tossing the ball over his jumpers on a half-dozen occasions. One misdirected throw led directly to the Lions’ only try, scored by scrumhalf Chris Jonck after centre Doppies le Grange had easily handed off Andries Strauss in a slicing midfield break.

“I thought the Lions were immense. We could get no go-forward on our ball. If the Lions had played like that all season, they would certainly be in the top four,” said Plumtree. “If the Lions perform like that next Saturday, they can even beat Western Province, though they are now out of the Currie Cup and motivation could be a problem.”

Plumtree said he was impressed by the Lions’ aggression at the breakdown where they turned-over Sharks ball, slowed it down or won penalties.

“We wanted those tries for a bonus point, but in the end it was a real fight just to win. The plan was to take the ball wide and find space on the edges, but they shut us down completely and by the last quarter we were just looking to score points anywhere just to win.”

It was exceptionally tough and hard, particularly at the breakdowns as Sharks prop Jannie du Plessis once told referee Jonathan Kaplan.

“Look, Mr Ref, I was stomped in the back,” said Du Plessis after receiving treatment.

“Wasn’t me,” was Kaplan’s nonchalant reply.

Plumtree said the outing has proved a timely reminder of how difficult it is to win the Currie Cup.

“We know what is waiting in Kimberley where Griquas are always tough. If we play like this again, we will be badly hurt. We can still win this title, but only if we really improve and make some major adjustments..”

Plumtree is hoping that centre Swanepoel will be ready to return against Griquas, while Jean Deysel and Bok captain John Smit (bruised nerve in the neck) are improving and Plumtree is hoping they will be passed fit. However, lock Johann Muller, a late withdrawal from the bench on Saturday, keeps aggravating his arm injury and he is unlikely to be fit for what promises to be another tough dust-up in Kimberley.

See page 18 for Currie Cupround-up.

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