Sharks

Sharks race into Super Final

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The Sharks secured a home Super rugby Final for South Africa for the first time when they held out against an strong surge form the Blues to win 34-18 in their semi-final showdown in Durban on Saturday.

It was a surging, seesaw match as each team took turns to look like being a winner, but in the end the team that surged last won.

The Blues dominated the first quarter of each match, the Sharks the second quarter. At one stage in the third quarter as the Blues ran in two tries in a matter of five minutes it looked as if they were going to upset the banana cart and knock the table-toppers out of the final for what would have been only the second time in Super rugby history, but then, just when the Sharks seemed to have an unbearable attack of jitters, the old heads calmed it all down and did the basic things remarkably well.

The Blues started the match getting ball galore and running while the Sharks kicked, missed tackles and somehow survived that hot period. In fact they survived so well that after 16 minutes they led 6-3.

 

The Blues were clever and they were physical with the physical Sharks before they had settled into the match. They mauled the first line-out and did so moving the mass quickly some 25 or so metres down the field where the Sharks were penalised. The Blues thumped into tackles and the Sharks found it hard to contain the likes of Anthony Tuitavake, Isaia Toeava and Rudi Wulff with lots of effort from burly Johan Afoa. But they did not score.

After Isa Nacewa had missed a straightforward penalty Percy Montgomery goaled one from 42 metres out, straight in front. Then the Blues got close after a many-phased attack but veteran Johan Ackermann dumped Tony Woodcock out at the corner.

When Johann Muller won a turn-over he was penalised for holding on and Nacewa levelled the scores after 13 minutes.

Sharks No.8 Ryan Kankowski burst down the middle of the field with strength and speed and the Blues were penalised at the tackle/ruck. This was an easy one for Montgomery. 6-3 after 16 minutes. In the second half Kankowski had an even better run down the left-hand touch-line for all of 50 metres.

From that point on the Sharks dominated the half though they found the Blues resolute. They started looking slower as if travel legs were weary.

A brilliant pass on a half gap by Fran’ois Steyn gave JP Pietersen an overlap but his pass infield went astray. But the home side went through phases and then Butch James calmly dropped a goal from 40 metres to make the score 9-3.

The Blues had a good moment as they tapped a free kick at a scrum and bashed at the Sharks’ line with massive Nick Williams prominent but they did not really look like breaching the defence.

Instead the Sharks came back and went through phases, picking and driving till Steyn did an underarm flip to Jacques Botes who was over in the right corner but called back for a forward pass.

At this stage the Blues took Derren Witcombe off and sent on Keven Mealamu, a much queried selection in New Zealand.

Eventually the Sharks did score. It was not smooth and suave but on advantage they went left. AJ Venter did well, James did well twice and the ball fell backwards off Venter. Johann Muller scooped it up and plunged over for the try. 14-3 after 35 minutes, and the Sharks looked like easing themselves into the final.

On the stroke of half-time Waylon Murray was penalised at a tackle and Nacewa goaled for the score of 14-3 at the break.

The Blues had much the better of the first part of the second half, much of it of the Sharks making as they did silly things under pressure.

The Sharks battled a ball back on tight defence and James hoofed it downfield. The Blues counterattacked. It started with a brilliant pass by Daniel Braid to Toeava who ran powerfully on a diagonal to the left and then played inside to Wulff who was over in the tackle.

Nacewa missed the conversion, Montgomery missed a drop and the Sharks started bungling under pressure again. Again the Blues scored – such a smooth and sophisticated try as Nacewa gave inside to Toeava who accelerated ahead and played back to Nacewa who had an easy run to the line. He converted. The Blues led 18-14 after 53 minutes and were making the Sharks look ponderous.

The Sharks sent some cool heads into the fray – Albert van den Berg, Adi Jacobs, Bob Skinstad and Bismarck du Plessis.

When Nacewa was off-side, Montgomery made it 18-17.

After a penalty the Sharks mauled the line-out and the Blues were again penalised. Cool Montgomery made it 20-17, and the ABSA Stadium in Durban started singing. There were still lots of minutes to play but the crowd seemed to sense that their heroes were home and dry, and in fact the Sharks got better and better in the time left and scored two tries – with some help from the Blues who were now forced to run out of defence to score.

The Sharks bashed at the Blues’ line and eventually Pienaar gave to Du Plessis who held his pass with calm timing to pop it to James. James dummied and then went over in the right with men nearby but still time for a gesture of triumph. Montgomery converted from far out. 27-18 with eight minutes to go.

Now the singing went into hoarse Ol’s. The final was coming to Durban.

Now the Sharks had energy. They did not miss tackles. They did not let the catch-up Blues make headway. Perhaps the best symbol of this time was a thumping tackle by Venter on Flavell that won a turn-over.

The Blues had an attacking line-out but threw in skew. They made a mess at another line-out and Du Plessis ran away with the ball to kick it down near the Blues corner post.

Still the brave Blues ran till David Howell dropped a pressure ball. Waylon Murray picked it up and weaved at the line, beating three Blues and carrying the fourth over as he scored. Montgomery converted, and the final whistle went.

There was a marvellous moment at the end as the Blues shook hands, heads up, smiling, generous. They have had their travelling problems and internal problems but they still had energy enough to be generous.

Man of the Match: The Blues certainly had brilliant Daniel Braid who ruled the turn-overs on the hot afternoon and Anthony Tuitavake who gave defenders a headache. With them there was Isaia Toeava, sadly helped off with a leg injury. For the Sharks there were also quite a few – cool Ruan Pienaar, powerful BJ Botha who was so important in the Sharks scrummaging as they dominated the heavier pack to the extent of winning a tighthead and captain John Smit. This left us with a choice of two experienced players – strong, diligent, preternaturally calm AJ Venter and committed Butch James and eventually by a tiny margin we decided on Butch James who tackled, scored, made a try and kept his side out of trouble.

The scorers:

For the Sharks:
Tries: Muller, James, Murray
Cons: Montgomery 2
Pens: Montgomery 4
DG: James

For the Blues:
Tries: Wulf, Nacewa
Con: Nacewa
Pens: Nacewa 2

Teams:

Sharks: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Francois Steyn, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Bradley Barritt/Adrian Jacobs, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Butch James, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 AJ Venter, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Johan Ackermann, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Deon Carstens/Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Tendai Mtawarira/Patric Cilliers, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Warren Britz, 20 Bob Skinstad, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Adrian Jacobs/Odwa Ndungane

Blues: 15 George Pisi, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Isaia Toeava, 11 Rudi Wulff, 10 Isa Nacewa, 9 Steve Devine, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Troy Flavell (c), 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Derren Witcombe, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Nick White, 18 Angus MacDonald, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 David Holwell, 22 Ben Atiga.

Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Touch judges: James Leckie (Australia), James Scholtens (Australia)
Television match official: Geoff Acton (Australia) 
 

365 Digital

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