Sharks power to crucial win
26 May 2012
JON CARDINELLI watched the Sharks manhandle the Stormers in their 25-20 victory at Kings Park on Saturday.
The scoreline will suggest the visitors were in the contest until the final whistle, and it does not do the Sharks justice. The hosts were in control for 60 minutes of this match, and it took a bit of luck and one particularly bad call from the referee to allow the Stormers to come close to completing a comeback win.
The Stormers went into this game as underdogs, and they certainly looked the part in the early stages. It didn’t help that Siya Kolisi, one of their primary ball-carriers and most physical defenders, withdrew before the start with injury. It didn’t help that a number of their forwards were coming into this game fatigued. They were always there for the taking.
The first half belonged to the Sharks forwards, as they systematically destroyed their Stormers counterparts. Their scrum pulverised that of the Stormers, with Jebb Sinclair battling to control the ball at the back of a rapidly retreating pack.
The Sharks were superior at collisions, hammering the Stormers back on defence and gaining good ground on attack. Bismarck du Plessis along with loosies like Keegan Daniel and Marcell Coetzee had a productive match on the ground, while Willem Alberts turned in a ball-carrying performance that suggests he is starting to get back to his tackle-busting best.
If you can break tackles, that is if you can compromise a defensive unit like that of the Stormers, you must be doing something right.
It was a complete performance by the Sharks in the first 40, with backs combining with forwards to ensure the hosts went to the break with a 20-6 lead.
Charl McLeod and Freddie Michalak took good options in the halfback positions, and the decision to start Pat Lambie at fullback also proved inspired. Not only did he contribute strongly with ball in hand, but proved a vital cog in the Sharks’ tactical kicking machine.
Michalak scored the Sharks’ first try, but it was during the period before and after half-time that the hosts did the most damage. Having set the forward platform, a feat that included disrupting the much vaunted Stormers lineout, they started to grow in confidence.
Daniel was a threat off the back of the scrum and general play, and it was from a big set piece where he first created the go-forward. After Alberts had carried the ball to within an inch of the tryline, Daniel finished.
The tired Stormers forwards battled to prevent the Sharks from bossing the breakdowns, and while Du Plessis weighed in with some important steals in his own 22, it was also a pilfer that sparked the Sharks’ third try. Coetzee played a crucial part in the build up, getting a magical pass away to Lwazi Mvovo who obliged with an equally magical finish.
At 25-6, the Sharks should have rammed the advantage home. They looked well on course to becoming the first team in 2012 to pick up a four-try bonus point against the Stormers. They were also keeping the Stormers’ attack honest, although for the majority of the first half, the visitors’ attack was hardly a threat.
But then in the 52nd minute, Michalak made a mistake, throwing a speculative pass that failed to find its intended target. The ball bounced along the turf before being snapped up by Gio Aplon, who raced 60m to score.
While Aplon’s try was down to a Sharks’ mistake, the Stormers drew confidence from the seven-pointer. They began to build towards the Sharks tryline, although some determined Sharks defence kept them at bay.
The Sharks were not as dominant up front in the final 20 minutes, and the decision by Stormers coach Allister Coetzee to empty his bench had the desired effect. The Stormers began to put more pressure on the Sharks at the breakdown, and when they finally got the ball back from a set piece, Jean de Villiers played Aplon on a short ball and the fullback glided past several defenders for another thrilling score.
De Villiers’s pass to Aplon was clearly forward, but neither referee Jaco Peyper nor his assistants picked it up, and so the Stormers’ second try stood. Peter Grant converted to bring the Stormers closer at 25-20, and with seven minutes to play, the visitors were within striking distance.
The Sharks, however, did well to close the game out in the dying stages. This result takes them back into the top six and given the momentum they’ve picked up in recent weeks you’d have to say they are strong play-off contenders.
The Stormers’ late surge ensured they picked up a losing bonus point. Considering their depleted stocks up front and that they were at one stage some 19 points behind, one log point is a fair return.