Sharks’ victory sets scene for repeat of 2007 Super 14 final against Blue Bulls

2008-10-12 00:00

Memories of the dramatic 2007 Super 14 final will dominate the build-up to this year’s Currie Cup final on October 25, when the Sharks again host the Bulls at King’s Park.

The Sharks advanced to a home final with an emphatic 29-14 win over the Lions in Durban on Saturday, while the Blue Bulls mixed the good, bad and the ugly in beating the champions, the Free State Cheetahs, 31-19, at Loftus.

Last year, in the climax to the Super 14, the Sharks led the Bulls into injury time, but then lost to a hotly disputed Bryan Habana try. On October 25, many of the players involved that day will return to King’s Park for what promises to be another tough and tight final.

The Sharks appeared to have the measure of the Lions from the first whistle on Saturday, and the semi-final, as a contest, was over at half-time when the Sharks led 26-7 at the break.

The pace of JP Pietersen, who created the overlap, provided number eight Ryan Kankowski with the space to run 50 metres for a try and then Frederic Michalak rounded off an impressive movement sparked by fullback Stefan Terblanche’s superb take of his own up-and-under.

The Sharks had raced clear with Ruan Pienaar kicking three penalties — two in the opening minutes as referee Mark Lawrence hammered the Lions at the breakdowns — and two conversions, and Frans Steyn landing a prodigious effort from 58 metres.

The Lions’ only response came from a try by centre Doppies le Grange from a kick into the Sharks’ in-goal area.

The visitors had the better of the second half in terms of territory and possession and the Sharks could add a lone Pienaar penalty.

The Sharks’ defence held superbly until injury time when an aimless Lions chip-kick bounced, hit the crossbar and fell into the arms of centre Jaque Fourie who scored (29-14). The game had long been put on ice.

• In Pretoria, the Free Staters, champions for the past three seasons — they shared the title in 2006 with the Blue Bulls — were left muttering about two disputed Bulls tries from Bryan Habana and John Mametsa which they claimed were the result of forward passes.

Bulls skipper Victor Matfield, who led his team to Super 14 glory, scoffed at suggestions that the Super 14 final would have any bearing on the Currie Cup final.

“The Currie Cup is a different story altogether. There’s no better feeling than being able to drink a beer out of that trophy. We did well in the scrums and line-outs [against the Cheetahs], but we have a few minor things to work on before the final.

“We’re confident, however, that things will be in order.”

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske was understandably a bitterly disappointed man after his side’s semi-final loss. “The Bulls capitalised on our mistakes — those 10 points [a converted try and a penalty] before half-time really cost us,” said Drotske. “It’s always difficult to erase a deficit like that against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.”

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