Sharks make us proud

2008-10-26 00:00

The quality of the Sharks’ rugby was a country mile ahead of the Blue Bulls in Saturday evening’s Currie Cup final at King’s Park, but, in the end, it was a couple of inches that decided the race for the title.

The Sharks this time survived a tense finish for an emotional 14-9 win, their first Currie Cup title in 12 years and after four defeats in finals.

The Sharks had far more to offer than the Blue Bulls in both attack and defence, but finals are about taking the scoring chances on offer and the Pretoria team somehow clung on grimly to stay in touch until the final whistle.

Certainly, the Sharks, playing at a higher tempo, created far more scoring opportunities than the Bulls — and eventually won by two tries to nil — but it remained to the end a game of inches

The narrow gap between tears and cheers, defeat and victory, was underlined early in the game when Bok and Bulls wing Bryan Habana, with the reputation of being one of the quickest wings in world rugby, intercepted a long Francois Steyn pass in his own half and sprinted away.

It seemed a certain try, and Habana certainly thought so, but Frenchman Fredric Michalak, chasing back, across-field and diving, just managed to clip Habana’s boot as he reached the Sharks’ 22-metre area. The Bulls wing stumbled, only slightly, but it was enough to break his momentum and he was gobbled up by Steyn.

Moments later, Sharks wing JP Pietersen, running free down the left wing as opposite number John Mametsa missed an attempted intercept, created an attacking ruck for scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, reaching and stretching, to just make the Bulls’ line for the opening try.

It was, in effect, a 14-point swing and from that moment the Sharks looked the more polished, determined and threatening team. Pienaar, who converted the try, missed two penalties before half-time, Stefan Terblanche, who had come within a metre of scoring down the right, and Francois Steyn failed with drops and the Bulls were happy to change over only 7-3 behind.

The Bulls, without offering much on attack, stayed in touch by competing strongly at the set pieces and scrambling well in defence. Morne Steyn had kicked a first-half penalty and he landed an excellent drop two minutes into the second half (7-6). Minutes later his penalty, which would have given the Bulls the lead, hit the woodwork and stayed out. It remained a game of inches.

The Sharks briefly gained some breathing space midway through the second half when they created an excellent, copybook try for Steyn after the forwards had driven and controlled the ball through several phases and the backs handled slickly to create the overlap.

Ironically, Steyn should not have been on the field.

Jonathan Kaplan had ordered him to the blood-bin moments before, but the Sharks centre had prevailed on the referee to allow him to first stay and attempt a long-range penalty.

The kick fell short, but the Bulls kept the ball alive and, when it was turned over, the Sharks released Steyn to score.

The Bulls, though failing to make any headway against the formidable Sharks defence, were back in the contest when Steyn goaled another penalty (14-9) to set up a tense final quarter.

Steyn, in a throwback to the Super 14 final, missed a penalty that would have again made the game safe and the Bulls counter-attacked strongly before losing the ball.

The Sharks had a scrum on the final hooter in their own half and had only to clear the ball to win.

But, for the first time on the night, their scrum went missing and the Bulls won the put-in. This time the Sharks destroyed the Bulls scrum and flank Jean Deysel ran the ball into touch to end the final and launch a thousand parties.

Scorers: Sharks: Tries - Ruan Pienaar, Francois Steyn. Conversions - Pienaar, Frederic Michalak

Bulls: Penalties - Morne Steyn (2). Drop goal - Steyn.

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