The Sharks were clinical in their 35-14 victory over the Brumbies at King’s Park.
In the build-up to the match Sharks coach John Plumtree stressed that his side needed to stifle the Brumbies’ ability to string phases together by fronting at the collisions point and attacking them at the breakdown. They managed that, and given that the teams cancelled each other out in most other facets, it played a decisive role in the result.
Importantly, the Sharks also bagged the four-try bonus-point, which they had failed to do in the majority of their matches at King’s Park last year. That proved to be the difference between a home semi-final and one in Sydney, and they’ll be determined to continue that scoring form in the five home matches that remain.
Neither side seemed intent on playing expansively in the first half, and that relative conservatism manifested itself in a plethora of tactical kicks. It always seemed like the team who made fewer errors would win, and ultimately it was two tries from turnovers which gave the Sharks the ascendency. They never looked like relinquishing the lead thereafter.
The Sharks signalled their intention straight off the bat with Bismarck du Plessis collecting the kick-off and making 30m before chipping through for Ryan Kankowski, who was beaten to the ball by Josh Holmes. JP Pietersen had a try denied by Christian Lealiifano’s brave defence soon after that, and when they botched the subsequent 5m scrum it appeared that the lack of opportunism which had marked their play in 2008 had returned to haunt them.
Pietersen wouldn’t be denied 10 minutes later when the Sharks turned over on their 10m line. Rory Kockott cleared the ruck quickly and found Pietersen unmarked. However, the Sharks undone that good work shortly thereafter, Frans Steyn lining up incorrectly in defence and allowing Lealiifano to dance through untouched.
Steyn, however, redeemed himself by effecting the turnover that lead to a try by Stefan Terblanche. The build up to the fullback’s five pointer featured great support play and deft handling. Kockott converted to establish a seven point lead.
The Sharks settled and dominated possession and territory from that point. They also improved their breakdown contest, which stifled the Brumbies’ flow on attack.
They went into half-time without adding to their tally, but hit their straps immediately after the break, scoring through Kockott. This time it was a multi-phase build-up, with the Sharks’ heavies depleting the defensive line. All that remained was for Kockott to snipe around an unguarded ruck fringe. He kicked his third conversion in as many attempts to leave the Brumbies with a significant deficit to make up.
Their attempts to salvage something from the game saw them stray from their traditionally structured approach and adjust their strategy to attack the wider channels. This suited the Sharks, who stood up well in contact and often isolated the Brumbies’ ball carriers.
It was yet another breakdown poach that lead to the Sharks’ fifth try, this time Kankowski was the beneficiary. Salesi Maafu scored a consolation try for the Canberra franchise but it did nothing to hide the fact that they were comprehensively outplayed by a very good side.
By Ryan Vrede