What we learned from the Currie Cup final and World XV game, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Sharks’ composure proved crucial in final
At half-time in Saturday’s final at Newlands, the Sharks trailed by six points despite enjoying 57% of both possession and territory. Although the Province lineout was malfunctioning, they were beginning to gain ascendancy at scrum time, while the Sharks were leaking penalties. At that point, it seemed as if the final was heading along the expected script, but then the Sharks flicked a switch. Remaining calm and composed, their big men up front began to make meaningful metres through powerful ball carries, while the Sharks’ defence began to rattle Western Province. Once the Sharks found their way into the lead, they never looked likely to relinquish that advantage, with the visitors duly displaying the necessary composure to close out a deserved victory.
Sharks centres were unsung heroes
In a youthful Sharks side, due credit has to go to the midfield pairing of Marius Louw and Jeremy Ward. Throughout the 2018 campaign, the duo have been in fine form, and were particularly influential in the Sharks’ semi-final win over the Golden Lions. Both have been outstanding on defence, while Ward, in particular, is beginning to become known as something of a hit man for his outstanding one-on-one tackles. Both Elton Jantjies and Josh Stander were on the receiving end from some bone-crunching tackles from Ward during the playoffs, while Louw has made some highly influential plays. At 22 and 23 years old respectively, it bodes well for the Sharks’ back-up midfield options in Super Rugby next year.
Lineout malfunction cost WP dearly
At Saturday’s post-match press conference, WP coach John Dobson suggested it had been a ‘car wreck’ performance in many regards. In particular, he would have been referring to Province’s lineout, which completely malfunctioned in the final. Both Dobson and captain Chris van Zyl admitted that Province’s lineout woes had been a game-changing factor in the final, with the hosts unable to get their attacking game going off this important set piece. Dobson suggested there were a number of factors that led to the lineout woes, and refused to point any fingers at one particular player, but he admitted that Province had been their own worst enemies when it came to making some poor decisions at lineout time.
Province sorely missed the presence of Vermaak
On Saturday night, Dobson also made no secret of the fact that Province had been dealt a sucker punch when veteran scrumhalf Jano Vermaak had been ruled out of the final late in the week. It robbed Province not only of an experienced decision-maker and leader, but a crucial general who is so good at facilitating a high-paced game. It was these qualities that were sorely missed by WP, while the key 10-12-13 axis of Josh Stander, Damian Willemse and Ruhan Nel also never looked in sync. Ultimately, Province quite frankly never looked like scoring, but one can’t help but wonder how different it might have been if a playmaker such as Vermaak had been able to take up his place in the starting lineup.
Lionel Cronjé provides blast from the past
On Friday, a World XV claimed an entertaining 31-28 win over Japan. The star of the show proved to be former Kings flyhalf Lionel Cronjé, who sent out a little reminder as to why he was widely regarded last year as a possible Bok darkhorse. Cronjé was at the heart of so much that the Kings did right in a commendable final season in Super Rugby, and it’s quite surprising that no major union in South Africa looked to recruit the 29-year-old after that season. Instead, Cronjé plies his trade for Toyota Verblitz in Japan, but on Friday he demonstrated his full array of skills as he beautifully set up two tries. One came from a deft grubber kick, while the other saw Cronjé step past a defender before delivering a delightful flick pass out of the back of the hand for Toni Pulu to score.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images