Draw sets up tense decider

2011-06-13 00:00

IT was the best and worst of times for Bok flyhalf Butch James at Ellis Park on Saturday evening when he almost proved a match-winner for both the Lions and the Sharks before the Super Rugby derby ended in a 30-30 draw.

The Bulls’ 19-16 win over the Stormers in Cape Town — their sixth on the trot — has turned their Loftus decider against the patchy, moody Sharks into a play-off final.

James had a busy evening at Ellis Park, controlling the first half, goaling all his kicks for 15 points, beefing up the defence and helping the Lions to a 30-9 lead early in the second half.

But then his high tackle on Keegan Daniel had him yellow-carded by referee Mark Lawrence — a curious and late replacement for Marius Jonker — after an hour and at a time when the Sharks were, finally, finding their feet.

Indeed, James now finds himself back in the dock with the citing officer believing that the tackle deserved a red card. The Bok flyhalf will appear before Sanzar judicial officer Rob Stelzner at Ellis Park today.

The Sharks scored a second try (by JP Pietersen) while James was off and a third (by Lwazi Mvovo) after he returned and the calm Pat Lambie’s testing conversions drew the game.

“Yeah, the yellow-card was pretty significant,” said Plumtree as the Lions, tiring after their overseas travels, battled to hang on.

But James had the chance to turn hero again in the dying moments, and in front of the Sharks’ posts, when he struck a drop which would have won the game. The replay suggests the kick was on course, but charging Sharks’ replacement hooker Bismarck du Plessis managed to deflect the ball.

The Sharks’ replacements, particularly Du Plessis, Alistair Hargreaves, Marcell Coetzee, Frederic Michalak and Adrian Jacobs, made a dramatic impact on the game as the Sharks, finally on the frontfoot and running onto the ball, scored 21 unanswered points in 25 minutes.

Coach John Plumtree and captain John Smit, along with many thousands of supporters, were critical of the Sharks’ woeful first half when they were dominated in all areas.

“We were very poor in the first 40 minutes when we couldn’t get our hands on the ball,” said Smit. “But I’m proud of the way we fought back when our replacements made a huge impact.

“It now means we face a colossal game at Loftus on Saturday.”

Plumtree said that the weekend wins by the Bulls and Waratahs meant that the outcome of the game at Ellis Park did not matter.

“It was always going to come down to this coming week if the Bulls and Waratahs won. But it would have been good for our momentum and confidence to beat the Lions.”

The Lions and the Sharks have at least been consistent this season, with the Lions starting well in most of their games but then fading in the second, while the Sharks have regularly started badly and then improved.

“We keep having to come from behind,” said Plumtree. “The replacements again came on and did a great job, but we have to start better.”

Plumtree, who has always talked up the Sharks’ physicality, was particularly miffed that the Lions twice drove over his pack for tries.

He admitted that the Sharks missed “their big boys”.

“But the other guys also have to stand up.”

Plumtree said that the huge deficit early in the second half had forced the Sharks to play differently.

“We had no choice and we had to play from deep. I think we played some really good rugby. The Lions got tired as we gave the ball a bit more width and when we upped the tempo.

“That was always going to be the plan, but we didn’t think we’d have to score three tries in the last 15 or 20 minutes just to break even.

“Again, it goes back to the start, we have to make sure it’s not a recurring theme this weekend. But I was proud of the way we fought from what looked like an impossible position.”

Plumtree said that lock Steven Sykes (knee injury) would probably miss the Loftus game, but the Sharks should have the Du Plessis brothers, Jean Deysel and Willem Alberts back to boost the pack with wing Odwa Ndungane providing backline options.

Plumtree remains confident that the Sharks can win at Loftus.

“We’ve done it before and it certainly is not impossible. We hoped we might have the job done before we arrived in Pretoria, but it’s not to be.

“The Bulls are showing what an outstanding side they are to keep winning. They’ve found some real form and confidence at the right time …”

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