A massive performance from the Sharks tight five squeezed the maximum five points out of the Blues in a 32-15 victory, keeping Dick Muir’s side in contention for an unexpected semi-final appearance.
It is impossible to fault those wearing jerseys 1-5 in grey and black. Deon Carstens and BJ Botha scrummed, mauled and defended around the fringes fiercely, captain John Smit was spot on with his lineout throwing and the locks Johan Ackermann and Johann Muller rocked and rumbled in the tight exchanges.
The tactic of mauling the Blues on every occasion was spectacularly successful, and four of the five tries scored by the Durban side were built on the back of pack power. It was a massive display by the most underrated tight five in the tournament, who frankly embarassed their Blues (and All Black) counterparts.
Tony Woodcock is the All Black loosehead, and Botha’s performance against him at scrumtime surely secures him a berth in Jake White’s Springbok squad. Woodcock went everywhere but forwards, with John Afoa similarly ineffective and Greg Rawlinson and Ali Williams bullied into submission.
Captain Keven Mealumu is the only member of the Blues pack who earned a speck of redemption through his bullocking runs.
Doug Howlett’s score in the opening minute would have sent shivers through King’s Park, but the way in which the Sharks rallied is a testament as much to their new found self-belief as it is to their power upfront.
Ruan Pienaar was another to put his hand up as his fine snipe down the blindside freed up Odwa Ndungane to cancel out Howlett’s opener, and a few minutes later he himself dotted down. Surely another Shark due for Springbok recogntion.
His control and decision making, allied with the wrecking ball in front of him, ensured the Blues were starved of enough possession to render their all-star back division virtually harmless.
The Sharks now turn their attention to Loftus, and a battle that will decide which South African contender drops out of the race for a semi-final appearance against the Bulls.
Buoyed by three successive wins, and with a pack emerging as one of the competition’s finest, the smart money might just be on an away win.
Tries: Odwa Ndungane, Ruan Pienaar, Deon Carstens, Albert van den Berg and Jacques Botes
Cons: Tony Brown and Percy Montgomery
Tries: Doug Howlett and Anthony Tuitivake
Con: Luke McAlister
THE MOMENTS THAT MATTER
66 mins: Blues get within half a metre but keep it in a few seconds too long and the ref rules the maul is held up. Turnover ball.
65 mins: Blies win a kickable penalty when Johann Muller clears from an offside position. They opt for the lineout. Do or die time.
58 mins: Sharks again keep it close, and the power of their pack accounts for their fourth score and the bonus point. It’s Albert van den Berg. Percy Montgomery nails the conversion. (Montgomery 1/1)
54 mins: Stupid play by AJ Venter. He takes out John Afoa late, and McAlister brings the Blues within a score. Cheap shot by Venter, deservedly punished. (McAlister 2/3)
50 mins: Blues at last get some ball and make good use of it. Mealamu provides the impetus and a fine snipe by Tuitivake gets the Blues back in it. McAlister converts. (McAlister 1/2)
44 mins: Third kickable penalty passed up as the Sharks seek a bonus point.
38 mins: Brown opts for an opportunistic drop attempt with nothing on outside him. It’s a good strike and it’s over.
35 mins: This time the decision to pass up the penalty pays off as the Sharks forwards again show sufficient control and patience to have the Blues on the ropes. Carstens is one runner too many and he swivels over. Brown misses the conversion. (Brown 1/4)
34 mins: Howlett pinged for a late hit with the shoulder. TJ report indicated yellow card, but the ref doesn’t agree. Sharks go for the lineout from a kickable penalty again.
23 mins: Sharks dominating possession and territory, and again class mauling by the forwards frees up the backs. A good burst by Adi Jacobs splits the defence, and Pienaar picks up to snipe and score. He made the first now he’s scored the second. This time Brown converts. (Brown 1/3)
14 mins: Sharks work it up patiently through their forwards. Ruan Pienaar snipes down the blindside and finds Ndungane who crashes over. Pienaar with a superb decision, and Ndungane with the awareness to be on his shoulder. Brown pulls the conversion. (Brown 0/2)
11 mins: Blues are pinged for being offside. It gives Tony Brown the chance to put the Sharks on the board, but he scoops it badly. (Brown 0/1)
6 mins: Decision not to take the three points is a mistake as the Sharks are penalised for obstructive running.
5 mins: Sharks absorb 5 minutes of pressure before forcing the turnover. They work an overlap and AJ Venter throws a shocker with three unmarked runners outside him. Very kickable penalty, but the Sharks run it.
1 min: Joe Rokocoko BURNS Cedric Mkhize, and from 60m out brilliant interchange between locks and forwards sees Doug Howlett receive the scoring pass from Ali Williams. Sharks stung early by an epic score. Luke McAlister can’t convert from the touchline (McAlister 0/1)
By Chris Hewitt