Big men set up Sharks win

AJ Venter has praised his front row for the Sharks’ heroic Absa Currie Cup win against the Vodacom Blue Bulls on Friday night.

Despite a stellar effort from the loose trio Venter said it was Danie Saayman, Bismarck du Plessis and Kees Lensing who were the stand out players of the evening.

“It’s easy for your loose trio when your front row is as good as ours were,” Venter told keo.co.za. “We’ve just had a look at the stats of Friday’s game and that told the story. Our front row were the leaders in ruck cleaning, each cleaning 28 rucks. That’s a phenomenal work rate and made our [the loose forwards] job much easier. People don’t always see that.”

It was not only at the breakdown that the front row dominated. All three swept the length and breadth of the field throughout the game, making excellent covering tackles, and were ruthlessly effective when carrying the ball up in attack.

But it was the Bulls who dominated the opening gambit, and looked in control of the game early on.

“You know when you play at Loftus it’s going to be hard. But we didn’t expect to be down 16-3 after 20 minutes. I just asked the guys: ‘Do we want this game to go the same way as the Super 12 game?’” Venter said. “From then on the guys really got stuck in and the game changed.”

Dick Muir’s side looked well drilled and structured throughout the 80 minutes, preferring to keep the ball close to the fringes of the rucks and mauls or opting to have runners coming short off flyhalf Brad Barritt.

The tactic proved to be a success, but according to Venter, even at kickoff, no definite gameplan had been decided on.

“Dick wants us to adapt to the game of the day, and I think we’ve done that successfully so far. Against the Bulls we had two options. When the game started we felt that we could have a go at them up front. But when it opened up in the last 15 minutes, we decided to swing it wide.”

It worked and the Pretoria-based side had no answer to the gutsy Sharks. Venter also heaped praise on the half back combination of Barritt and Ruan Pienaar. “Brad filled the big boots of Butch [James] and was exceptional, considering he only came into the side on Tuesday. People had a lot to say about Ruan’s kicking at goal but you have to look at his overall game, which was really good. It’s in big games like this that you really see talent, and they showed heaps of it.”

The skipper said that the win over their northern rivals was celebrated in the manner it deserved but chose to shift the attention to the visit of the Vodacom Free State Cheetahs.

“That game is done and we’re looking forward to Saturday’s game against the Cheetahs. It’s going to be a big one.”

By Ryan Vrede