Sharks in freefall

2014-07-05 22:55

The Sharks’ shock end-of-season implosion continued in Bloemfontein tonight as they lost their second match in a row to ruin their chances of topping the Super Rugby log.

Finishing in one of the top two positions wins a side the home advantage in the semifinals but after going down to the Stormers in May in the last match before the break for the midyear tests, the Sharks were again unable to find the form that had seemed to stand them in good stead after a successful tour down under.

The enigmatic Cheetahs, who are in fact the bottom side in the South African conference, were inspired by the return of their Springboks and built up a 27-13 lead before knuckling down to withstand the Sharks’ desperate attempts to snatch a win.

Jake White sent in the cavalry, in the shape of his Springboks, off the bench to try save the game; and a try by Bismarck du Plessis in the 75th minute gave the Sharks a lifeline to at least grab a draw.

The Sharks mounted a strong assault and were able to send Tonderai Chavhanga hurtling for the goal line, but a valiant cover tackle by Rayno Benjamin forced the winger into touch.

The upshot was that the Sharks are now on 46 points on the log, but in third place on points difference behind the Waratahs (48 points) and the Crusaders (46 points). If this remains unchanged after next weekend’s last round of league play, the Sharks will qualify as South Africa’s leading team, but will have to play the team in sixth place at home to qualify for an away semifinal.

At Newlands yesterday, the Stormers maintained their late-season surge to beat the Bulls 16-0 and end any hopes Victor Matfield and his men had of sneaking into the play-offs.

On Friday night, the Lions’ determination to demonstrate their capability to play Super Rugby carried them to an all-important sixth win of the season against the Melbourne Rebels at Ellis Park; while in Christchurch yesterday, the Crusaders celebrated the return of Dan Carter by beating the Blues 21-13 to go to the top of the New Zealand conference, throwing down the gauntlet to the Highlanders ahead of their crucial game against the frontrunning Waratahs, which took place early this morning.

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