Sharks short of their best

2012-10-29 00:00

IT was an extraordinary and dramatic victory, a Currie Cup final which sizzled and entertained, and only the most one-eyed Sharks supporter would deny that Western Province richly deserved their 25-18 win in the Currie Cup final at King’s Park on Saturday.

While justice was served — and was reward for Province’s courage and character on the night, it was a massive letdown for the Sharks, their coaching staff and the supporters after an excellent year. for while Province flourished, and grew in confidence during the game, the Sharks were well short of their best at the end of a marathon season.

Their obvious problems in the lineout ultimately broke their rhythm, costing them possession, territory and, ultimately, the trophy, but there were also patches of play when they appeared strangely flat, when the intensity of past weeks was missing, when they appeared hesitant on both attack and defence.

It was as if the well-executed try — scored by Western Province centre Juan de Jongh shortly before half-time — created doubts which coincided with the loss of the lineout as a source of possession.

But nothing should detract from the quality of Province’s win. They were lacking in experience and suffered a further setback in losing veteran Bok wing Bryan Habana to a knee injury after just 13 minutes, but not before he had produced a superb cover tackle to prevent a certain JP Pietersen try.

The Sharks had the start everyone expected and they appeared to have the final under control with their territorial advantage allowing flyhalf Pat Lambie to kick four penalties in the opening half-an-hour for a 12-3 lead.

But the mood changed as half-time loomed. First Joe Pietersen, a most capable replacement for Habana, kicked a testing penalty (12-6) and then centre De Jongh, cutting back against the flow of the Sharks’ cover in a scissors move with Demetri Catrakilis from a set scrum, shrugged off Keegan Daniel to score.

Catrakilis added his second penalty of the half on the break and Province, with 13 points in eight minutes, led 16-12 at the break.

The Sharks started the second half strongly, but the resolute Province defence denied them and it needed two Lambie penalties — he did not miss a kick at goal all night — to take the Sharks into an 18-16 lead going into the final quarter.

But Province again lifted their game at a critical period as the Sharks, without the ball, continued to battle in the set piece. Catrakilis was able to kick for position because WP won nearly every lineout and the flyhalf also turned the pressure into points with two drops and a penalty in a 13-minute period for a seven-point lead (25-18).

The Sharks attacked desperately in the final minute and a move from their own line seemed certain to bring a late try (and a possible draw) when Louis Ludik ran clear with Charl McLeod on his shoulder, but fullback Pietersen gambled on the pass and closed down the replacement scrumhalf. The Sharks were not done, immediately winning back possession from a Province scrum — the final one of the game — to set up a multi-phase move before replacement hooker Kyle Cooper dropped the ball 10 metres out to launch a thousand Cape Town parties.

The man of the match award went to captain and open side flank Deon Fourie, but Bok lock Eben Etzebeth, who turns 21 today, was a major factor in this win, lifting the Province pack and creating havoc in the lineouts.

The Sharks battled away manfully with JP Pietersen, Lambie, Willem Alberts, Daniel and Marcell Coetzee heavily involved, but the Sharks’ problem on the night was a chronic lack of possession at crucial periods of a tight final.

For the Sharks, the defeat was their fifth in seven finals since 2000 and their second on the trot, following their loss to the Golden Lions in the 2011 final at Ellis Park. But, as Plumtree said on Saturday night, no team can afford to lose nine of their own lineouts and expect to win a final.

Scores and scorers:

Sharks 18 (12) – Penalties: Pat Lambie (6). WP 25 (16) – Tries: Juan de Jongh. Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (3), Joe Pietersen. Drop goals: Catrakilis (2).

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