Stormers caught off guard, exposed by attacking Sharks with nothing to lose

2010-05-10 00:00

RUGBY, even at the highest, professional level, remains a game played over the couple of inches between the ears. Ask a Stormer, ask a Shark.

The Stormers, comfortably in second spot on the log, arrived at King’s Park on Saturday night, buoyant from crushing seven-times champions Crusaders and intent on securing a Super 14 home semi-final by beating the lowly, 10th-placed Sharks.

Perhaps they believed their own press, perhaps they thought that the Sharks, after their early struggles in the campaign and with nothing at stake, would be a soft touch.

Whatever the reason, the Stormers were ruthlessly exposed by a Sharks side hellbent on creating mayhem and they were eventually fortunate to go down only 20-14 and escape with losing one bonus point, that could prove critical. A win over the Bulls, who are out of sight at the top, at Newlands on Saturday will still earn them a home semi-final.

Stormers captain Schalk Burger and coach Allister Coetzee were quick to acknowledge that they were outmuscled and outplayed by the smarter, sharper Sharks.

“That was by far the most physical game we have played this year,” said Coetzee. “The Sharks placed us under enormous pressure and we could not hold on to the ball. We were tactically poor, but full credit to the Sharks.”

Burger, who threw himself around the field in an attempt to cover holes left by his team-mates and dislocated a finger in the process, said that the Sharks “pitched on the day and we did not”.

While the Stormers were left pondering why their team did not get up for a game which meant so much, Sharks coach John Plumtree was trying to explain why his players suddenly played out of their boots when their cause was already lost.

“We had a poor week of preparation after the disappointment of losing to the Bulls,” said Plumtree, “and I was worried”.

“But the mood started changing on Friday and I just spoke to them about pride, the Sharks jersey and what they mean to the many supporters.

“Everyone contributed to that win and it showed the character of the players. It was a win built on huge defence and I was very proud.”

Plumtree said that the plan had been to pressure the Stormers’ set pieces and their halfbacks (Dewaldt Duvenage and Peter Grant).

“I think we did that and we also took care of them at the breakdown. We had nothing to lose and that made us dangerous. It allowed us to keep the ball in hand more than usual and not kick the penalties in the first half. That kept them under pressure and made them defend more than us.”

The Sharks, thanks to their forwards and a strong scrum, were always on the front foot, both in attack and defence. This allowed their big men, the superb Jean Deysel, Beast Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis and John Smit, to flourish while their halfbacks, the excellent, sniping Rory Kockott and Ruan Pienaar, enjoyed running at the opposition.

The Stormers, with the life squeezed out of them at forward, and shoddy behind the scrum, played from too deep and only twice ventured out of their half before the break. There was an improvement in the second half, but the Sharks’ remarkable, swarming defence remained resolute and they were snuffed out time and again.

While the 31 000 King’s Park crowd celebrated the win, there was also an underlying sense of frustration late on Saturday night, a feeling of what might have been had their Sharks played with this intensity and enthusiasm from the start of the season.

See page 19 for the Super 14 roundup.

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