Sharks captain Keegan Daniel credited his team for a strong finish to the Super Rugby season, but conceded that the odds were always against them in the final.
After a stuttering start to the 2012 tournament campaign (which included five losses in their opening nine fixtures) and a 38-28 shock defeat to the Lions in Johannesburg near the play-off rounds, the Sharks needed a strong finish to push for a top-six place on the overall table.
And it was mission completed as they recorded bonus-point victories over the Bulls (32-10) and Cheetahs (34-15) at Kings Park.
However, the road through the knockout stages was always going to be difficult for the men from Durban.
They had to travel to Brisbane during the wildcard qualifiers to tackle 2011 champions the Reds. They did the job as they powered to a 30-17 win. They then had to make a return trip to South Africa, to face the Stormers in Cape Town. Despite the travelling factor, they picked up a 26-19 win over the log-leaders. Incredible.
But there wasn’t much time to celebrate as they had to make their way to Hamilton to face the Chiefs in the title decider – their third move across the Indian Ocean in the space of three weeks.
While most of the media and pundits gave the Sharks no chance of victory because of the travel disadvantage, the team tried to remain positive. The players believed they could fight through the 80 more minutes to complete an amazing run.
However, the Chiefs outplayed the clearly fatigued visitors in a 37-6 triumph to be crowned champions. Daniel admitted that the better team won on the day.
‘This challenge was too big, but we have no excuses. The Chiefs were outstanding,’ Daniel said in the post-match interview. ‘It’s been an incredible journey for the team, since the loss against the Lions. We gave ourselves a decent chance, but in the end, we just couldn’t take it.’
Daniel also lamented missing early try-scoring opportunities that would’ve handed the Sharks an early advantage. They held the ascendancy in the opening quarter, but could only score three points via a Frederick Michalak penalty.
The Chiefs then powered to victory as they converted their 13-3 half-time advantage into a comfortable win. Captain Craig Clarke lauded his team’s battle at the gainline and their competition under the high balls and lineouts.
‘Winning the competition is so surreal. The boys are very chuffed, just like after our win over the Crusaders last week,’ said Clarke. ‘In the first quarter, we were very slow to get to the box. It could’ve been the effect after a physical game the weekend before.
‘But we picked up in the second half, and got into the work. We disrupted them in the air and they struggled to drive from the lineouts. We managed to deliver our trademark line speed on attack and we were in their face. We also had heaps of pride on defence and kept them out from scoring tries.’