The Sharks smashed the Stormers 34-10 on Saturday to finish the league stage with a much-needed win. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Some will criticise the Sharks for not pushing for the four-try bonus point. They went into this clash needing four tries as well as a victory by 35 points or more, and nothing to lose in the sense that they could finish no lower than third on the overall log.
And yet, with the play-offs looming, the Sharks desperately needed any sort of win. After losing their two previous matches to the Stormers and Cheetahs, they needed to win at Newlands and take some momentum into the knockout rounds.
What would also have altered their mindset was the sin-binning of Willem Alberts in the first half of Saturday’s game. In the 16th minute, the Stormers were awarded a penalty deep in Sharks territory, and Alberts kicked the ball away after the whistle was blown. It was a foolish and unnecessary act, but never deserving of a yellow card.
This erroneous decision by referee Jaco Peyper would cost the Sharks almost immediately, as the Stormers kicked the ball to touch and set the lineout. The hosts won possession, and after controlling the ball at the back of the maul, Nizaam Carr touched down.
Despite the one-man disadvantage, the Sharks competed fiercely at the breakdown. Frans Steyn was in prodigious form, winning the territorial battle for the Sharks and converting a couple of long-range penalty attempts. The 14-man Sharks finished the period of sanction having moved to a 9-7 lead.
When Alberts returned, the Sharks began to dominate in all disciplines. Their scrum hammered that of the Stormers, while their heavies were similarly aggressive at the tackle point.
Indeed it was one powerful scrum which led to the Sharks’ first try. The Stormers were shoved backward, and scrumhalf Nic Groom panicked, kicking the loose ball in the direction of a team-mate when he really should have dived on it and secured possession. The Sharks pounced, hacking the ball ahead, and it was centre Paul Jordaan who beat the cover defence for the touchdown.
The Sharks went to the break with a 19-10 lead. The flow of the game strongly resembled that of the match played earlier in the day in Christchurch. The Crusaders scored their first try against the Highlanders in the dying minutes of the first half, and then added three more in the second stanza. The most of optimistic of Sharks fans would have taken this as a sign, and hoped that the Durban side would emulate the Crusaders at Newlands.
But the Sharks showed their intent early in the second stanza when Steyn kicked for goal and increased the Sharks’ lead to 12 points. It was clear that they wanted to secure victory rather than take a gamble and push for the four-try bonus point.
The game lost shape in the third quarter, with neither team maintaining possession long enough to build a significant attack. The Sharks scored two late tries, but ultimately ran out of time to push for a fourth and even a fifth, which would have improved their points difference.
Nevertheless, the job is done in the sense that they are back to winning ways. The Sharks will host the Highlanders in a qualifying play-off next week. Should they win that encounter, they will travel to Australasia for a semi-final.
The Stormers finish a disappointing season on a gutting low. Saturday’s loss to the Sharks was their ninth of the season, and their fourth to an opposing South African team.
Stormers – Try: Nizaam Carr. Conversion: Kurt Coleman. Penalty: Coleman.
Sharks – Tries: Paul Jordaan, S’Bura Sithole, Stefan Ungerer. Conversions: Frans Steyn (2). Penalties: Steyn (5).
Stormers – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger (c), 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 S'bura Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ettiene Oosthuizen, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Tonderai Chavhanga.
LEATHERMAN SA PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Frans Steyn kicked seven from eight goal attempts for a personal tally of 19 points. His physicality at the tackle kept the Sharks on the front foot, while his exemplary line kicking ensured that the visitors won the territorial battle.
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