JON CARDINELLI writes that Pat Lambie’s cool game management was decisive in the Sharks’ emphatic 20-3 win over the Blue Bulls in Durban.
If Saturday’s semi-final at Kings Park was a movie, Lambie was the show-stealing leading man.
This blockbuster boasted a strong supporting cast, with Marcel Coetzee and Keegan Daniel producing influential performances at the collisions, and Jannie du Plessis perpetuating the physical dominance with a powerful scrumming display.
But above and beyond all of that was Lambie’s decision making and execution. This allowed the Sharks to take advantage and eventually finish the game as deserved victors.
The wet conditions prescribed a conservative approach, and it was the Sharks who adapted best. The hosts enjoyed a wealth of possession and territory in the first stanza, and much of these advantages were earned through a superior kicking game.
Lambie, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and fullback Louis Ludik shared the tactical kicking duties, keeping the Bulls pinned in their own territory with a series of probes and high-hanging up-and-unders. While the Bulls employed similar tactics, it was the Sharks, and especially Lambie, who were more accurate in the implementation of this strategy.
The Bulls were often beaten in the air when the ball went high, such was the precision of the Sharks’ kick as well as the timing of the chase. When they attempted to reply in kind, they were guilty of booting the ball too deep. It was because of these errors that they were unable to put the Sharks under the necessary pressure.
Morné Steyn has struggled with his kicking all season, and had another awful outing in Saturday’s semi-final. The out-of-sorts Bok flyhalf made mistakes from the kickoff that resulted in turnovers. There were several instances where he was charged down and where he kicked the ball out on the full.
But the blame for this defeat cannot be laid solely at Steyn’s door. The forwards were outplayed physically and technically, and the patent lack of discipline and composure of the Bulls’ collective cost them at key moments.
In the first half, Lambie had done well to switch between kicking and running. As the Sharks launched an attacking move on the Bulls’ 22m line, Lambie made the decision to chip and chase. It looked to be an excellent option with nobody sweeping at the back, but as Lambie raced to collect his own kick he was felled by Bulls prop Morné Mellet. Referee Mark Lawrence didn’t hesitate in sending Mellet to the sin-bin for tripping, and the Sharks proceeded to score six more points in Mellet’s absence.
The Bulls finished the first half with zero points and virtually no territory, and found themselves chasing the game in the second period. They enjoyed a brief period on the front-foot but were repeatedly undone by their own errors and indiscipline. To be fair, the Sharks did respond to this onslaught with a determined defensive display.
The hosts’ lineout wobbled and their scrum looked less secure when Du Plessis left the field before half-time, but they will be happy with the way they performed at the collisions, and the manner in which their flyhalf dictated play in the battle for territory.
They will enjoy home ground advantage in next week’s final, but these are the attributes that will make them favourites to win the Currie Cup trophy. They played to the conditions and kept their composure in the semi-final, and they have the right balance between individual brilliance and collective clout to ensure that they will go all the way.