Sharks had only blood and sweat to give

2009-06-11 00:00

THE Sharks had little to offer but blood and sweat in the first half before the British Lions ran all over them in the second to romp to a 39-3 win at King’s Park last night.

“That was a very pleasing, very strong performance,” Lions coach Ian McGeechan said after the game. “We showed discipline and patience and our defence was outstanding.”

The Sharks, outplayed in almost every area, somehow held on to concede only one try and trailed only 7-3 at the break, but the pressure told in the second half and the Lions ran in four further tries against and outclassed the Sharks side in front of a disappointingly small crowd of 22 000.

The Lions dominated the first half, placing the Sharks under enormous pressure as they camped in their half, but they appeared determined to keep the Sharks in the game as they wasted numerous scoring opportunities. Four goalable penalties were spurned as the Lions kicked for attacking line-outs and, on half-a-dozen occasions, were held up on or over the Sharks’ line.

Indeed, the Sharks’ spirited defence prevented them from rather a massive hammering and they did gain a number of critical turnovers. But their makeshift, disjointed backline made little headway on attack and they hardly ever threatened the Lions try-line.

Adding to the Sharks’ problems was their shoddy line-out work as they conceded four of their own throws in the first half. Their inexperienced back division was further depleted when centre Riaan Swanepoel left the field after 20 minutes with a leg injury. He was replaced by Lwazi Mvovo, who immediately earned the biggest cheer of the first half when he made up five metres in a 70 metre dash for the line to bring down Lions centre Brian O’Driscoll after an interception.

The pressure from the Lions finally told after 24 minutes when a series of dives opened the way for England hooker Lee Mears to plunge over. Ronan O’ Gara converted but the Sharks hit back six minutes later with a well-struck Rory Kockott penalty (7-3).

The Sharks held on for the rest of the half and they would have been delighted to be trailing by four points after spending much of the half back on their heels.

But the Lions suddenly found their rhythm in the second half, kicked their penalties and started to use the width of the field as the Sharks’ defences cracked.

The powerful Lions scrumhalf Mike Phillips, who is built like a backrow forward and created so much momentum for his forwards, dummied and stepped his way through for a try after just two minutes in the second half, which O’Gara converted. And with the Irish flyhalf now kicking his penalties, and goaling twice, the Lions were out of reach at 18-3 after just three minutes.

The Lions, creating overlaps, fashioned tries for wing Luke Fitzgerald and fullback Byrne and with O’Gara kicking superbly, landing five out of six kicks in a blustery wind, the Lions were 32-3 ahead with 15 minutes remaining.

Sharks coach John Plumtree stripped his bench and stuck on young replacements Guy Cronje, Craig Burden and Lwazi Mvovo, who brought some energy in the final minutes. However, attempting to run the ball from their own line, the Sharks gifted a try to Lions number eight Jamie Heaslip after the final hooter for James Hook to convert (39-3).

Lions captain Paul O’Connoll praised his team’s composure — “we could have panicked after the first half’s dominiation failed to produce points, but we stayed patient.”

Sharks head coach John Plumtree praised the brave performance of his players “but we just didn’t have anything to offer in attack and the pressure finally told.”

The Lions will be cheered by their control and their second half showing, but for the Sharks it was a long evening of damage control.

Scorers: Lions 39 - tries by Mears, Phillips, Fitzgerald, Bryne and Heaslip, conversions by O’Gara (3) and penalties (2) by O’Gara. Conversion by Hook.

Sharks – penalty by Kockott.

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