Steyn's boot sinks Sharks

2012-02-25 00:00

THE Sharks left their final effort too late as they went down 18-13 to the boot of Morné Steyn in their Super Rugby opener against the Bulls at Loftus last night.

The Sharks scored the only try of the game, but they were sunk by the boot of Steyn in the second half when they conceded a string of penalties and were hopeless — and helpless — against the string of Bulls’ up-and-unders.

“We made silly mistakes,” Sharks captain Keegan Daniel said later, “and gave the Bulls too many easy points. We never gave up, but those errors cost us the game.”

Bulls captain Pierre Spies said that the momentum gained by his team in the second half, and the boot of Steyn, had been critical.

“It was very tough and we were tiring towards the end, but our pressure in the second half was vital.”

Both sides were unable to take their scoring opportunities in the first half when the Sharks had the edge, but too often coughed up possession in the tackle.

Steyn and Sharks flyhalf Pat Lambie each missed two goalable penalties in an untidy and scoreless first half, a period of play frequently punctuated by turnovers by both teams. The mood of the game, and the quality of the kicking, changed in the second half but it was the Bulls who took charge for half-an-hour before holding on for the win.

Finding some of their rhythm in the second half, the Bulls’ tactics were obvious as they stuck rigidly to the kicking game and kept playing the ball down the touchline. Halves Francois Hougaard and Steyn constantly pressured the Sharks under the high ball — wing Bjorn Basson a willing and effective chaser — while lock Juandre Kruger dominated the lineouts.

The Sharks, in turn, failed to settle and were frequently penalised, allowing Steyn, back in his groove, to boot five penalties in the third quarter to one kicked by Lambie (15-3).

Lambie kicked a second penalty gaining into the final quarter, but Steyn slotted a drop (18-6) as the Loftus crowd began celebrating.

The Sharks refused to lie down and improved markedly as coach John Plumtree called on replacements.

Charl McLeod took over from a disappointing Frederic Michalak at scrumhalf, and provided some spark, while the 20-year-old Paul Jordaan, lively in midfield, made an immediate impact as the Bulls started to fall off tackles.

His chip kick and (forward) pass set up a Sharks sortie from their own quarter, wing Lwazi Mvovo was prominent and replacement flank Jacques Botes, running an excellent line, scored. Lambie converted and the Sharks, at 18-13, were back in range for the final eight minutes.’

The Sharks kept stretching the Bulls defence in the closing minutes but a couple more handling errors finally ended their challenge.

There will be obvious areas of concern for the Sharks, but this was a typical early season performance. They missed the powerful drive of a Willem Alberts or Jean Deysel in breaching the gainline and too often moved the ball wide well behind the advantage line.

A willing JP Pietersen showed some excellent touches in midfield and, if nothing else, his switch from wing has involved him more prominently in the game and brought him closer to the action.

Pat Lambie was another to emerge with credit and he continued bravely for the final quarter after taking a heavy blow to the head in tackling Bok lock Flip van der Merwe.

The Sharks scrum stood up well to their heavier opponents, but the lineout was less secure and the lineout expertise of Alistair Hargreaves was missed.

The Stormers in Cape Town lie ahead next Saturday and the Sharks will have learnt some important lessons at Loftus last night. But they will know they should have punished the many errors made by the Bulls on the night.

POINTS-SCORERS

(try by Jacques Botes, conversion and two penalties by Pat Lambie).

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