Sharks’ team effort triumph

2012-07-23 00:00

THE Super Rugby final will be a contest between South African and New Zealand teams after the Sharks and Crusaders triumphed in the weekend quarter-finals.

Clinical attacking in the first half and resolute defending in the second earned the Sharks a stunning 30-17 win over the title-holding Reds in Brisbane and they now trek back to Cape Town to face the log-leading Stormers in the second semi-final on Saturday.

The organised Crusaders dumped the limp Bulls 28-13 in the other qualifier on Saturday and the seven-time champions now travel to Hamilton to meet the Chiefs in the first semi-final on Friday.

The Stormers would have been hoping to face the Sharks rather than a Crusaders team crowded with World Cup-winning All Blacks in the semi-finals.

On Saturday’s evidence at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, they know they still face one heck of a battle.

The Stormers will have the highly-rated number eight Duane Vermeulen and Bok lock Eben Etzebeth back from injury and the Sharks will be all jetted-out while the Cape Town-based team will be fresh after a week’s break.

If the Sharks can somehow overcome the travel fatigue and the Stormers’ home ground advantage, the prize is a flight back Down Under to face either the Chiefs or the Crusaders. A Stormers win on Saturday evening would bring the final to Newlands.

The Sharks, brave, ambitious and urgent, were emphatic winners in Brisbane and it was only a consolation try on the final hooter which narrowed the Reds’ losing margin from 20 points to 13.

It was a remarkable win against the odds and only the 11th away victory out of 62 knock-out matches in the history of Super Rugby.

This was a match the Reds expected to win — with or without Quade Cooper — and captain Will Genia did not make the most gracious of losing speeches.

He blamed his team for silly mistakes; he was critical of the match officials for not awarding the Reds a try when they trailed by 17 points; and he highlighted the injury to flyhalf Ben Lucas after 20 minutes.

He made no mention that it was his pass that gifted scrumhalf Charl Mcleod an intercept try — to leave his team trailing by 17 points — and he said nothing about the fact that the Sharks, written off in Australia, played rather well.

“We were just poor. If we played well and lost to a better side, you could cop [accept] it a bit easier,” Genia said.

John Plumtree’s team had the dream start. The Reds were expecting the Sharks to rumble on and on with their big forwards in midfield, but this left them defensively vulnerable out wide, and wing JP Pietersen and outside centre Paul Jordaan scored early tries.

Sharks flyhalf Freddie Michalak, continuing his excellent form, popped over a penalty and a drop (20-3), while Genia, who shifted to flyhalf when Lucas went down with his leg injury, fashioned tries for both the Reds and Sharks either side of half-time.

First, he took advantage as the Sharks were turned over at a ruck and cleverly attacked down the thinly-guarded left, rounding off to score.

The Reds were back in contention at half-time (20-10), but almost immediately after the break, Genia’s long skip pass found the eager McLeod, who made a 60-metre sprint to the line to restore the Sharks’ lead (27-10).

The Reds then played their most effective rugby, camping in the Sharks’ quarter for the next 20 minutes. They believed flank Liam Gill had scored, but Australian video referee Matt Goddard did not agree and it was as close as they came against the superb Sharks’ defence before their try in the last move of the game.

Still, it provided the stunned crowd with a scapegoat and South African referee Jonathan Kaplan left the ground to loud booing.

Sharks captain Keegan Daniel said his side’s defensive effort had been critical in winning a contest when they had only 31% possession.

“That’s what wins games and the boys put their bodies on the line,” he said.

He and fellow-flank Marcell Coetzee made tackle after tackle, while hooker Bismarck du Plessis, number eight Ryan Kankowski and scrumhalf McLeod continued their excellent form.

JP Pietersen again underlined his value to this team on attack and defence, while fullback Louis Ludik made a couple of try-saving tackles.

But this was very much a team effort with solid work in the set pieces, clever offloading in the tackle by both forwards and backs, and committed, scrambling defence.

The Crusaders also started strongly in Christchurch, racing to a 16-0 lead, and they controlled the flow and pace of the game from first to last against a Bulls team that seemed to lack belief.

“In the first 40 minutes we played at the right end of the field,” said Richie McCaw, the Crusaders captain. “We didn’t give them any momentum. We limited our mistakes and our discipline was good and because of that we applied pressure.”

Flyhalf Dan Carter took advantage of the Bulls’ poor discipline, kicking 23 of their 28 points.

It was not a day the Bulls will want to remember and they seldom threatened the slick Crusaders outfit.

They also lost wing Bjorn Basson, who underwent surgery on an intestinal tear and he will spend the next week in New Zealand.

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