John Bishop - The Witness
Sharks a well-beaten team
Durban - The Sharks, lacking intensity and commitment, were badly exposed at Newlands on Saturday evening when Western Province sealed a home semi-final with an emphatic 33-21 win in the final Currie Cup league match.
Province, desperate for a home semi-final, were clearly on a mission and the Sharks, painfully, were not and ended a well-beaten team.
The Blue Bulls, boosted by the return of their muscular Boks, took charge in Kimberley to beat Griquas 48-36. The Sharks now meet the Blue Bulls in the first semi-final on Saturday with Province hosting Free State Cheetahs in the second.
The Sharks’ shortage of hunger, intensity and cohesion was, to a degree, understandable.
Their home semi-final was secured and coach John Plumtree had made nine changes to the regular line-up.
The result was that they were outplayed by Province in almost every area and the most remarkable statistic was that they were still able to share the try count at 3-3 when they applied so little pressure and created very little momentum.
Province won this contest by dominating the contest on the gainline where their physical loose trio of Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Schalk Burger kept knocking over the Sharks and preventing them from gaining any frontfoot ball.
The Sharks dragged themselves through a dreadful opening quarter when they gave away penalties, failed to make any headway with ball in hand and scrumhalf Rory Kockott was hesitant behind an untidy scrum.
It set the mood for the game and it was only Province’s poor finishing to the many line-breaks which saved the Sharks from a mauling.
The Sharks clearly missed the physical presence of brawny flank Willem Alberts and the high work rate of Keegan Daniel.
But what was worrying was that the much-vaunted Springbok front-row made little impact while the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, coughed up both penalties and possession.
With each side scoring three tries, the difference of 12 points came with the four penalties kicked by Province flyhalf Willem de Waal which underlined the home team’s territorial advantage and the Sharks’ poor discipline.
The Sharks were also on the wrong end of a number of referee Mark Lawrence’s calls, and the first WP try (by Gio Aplon) was awarded after a forward pass.
But, in truth, the Sharks can have few quibbles. Their lack of desire showed in the number of missed tackles and in their sloppiness in controlling possession, and Plumtree will be on the warpath this week.
Vermeulen, with his strong defence, the Province front-row, a slighter sleeker Ricky Januarie at scrumhalf, centre Juan de Jongh and a roving Jean de Villiers in the backline enjoyed their day at Newlands while there were few heroes in an untidy Sharks side though centre Andries Strauss again stood up strongly.
Province were 13-0 up after the first quarter following Aplon’s try and De Waal’s touchline conversion and two penalties.
Ryan Kankowski took advantage of a neat grubber by Andre Pretorius and a lucky bounce for a try (13-7), but Province scored on half-time when the Sharks lost a lineout and Vermeulen ended a multi-phased attack in the corner.
De Waal’s excellent conversion gave Province a 20-7 lead at the break and they were never again threatened.
Replacement Louis Ludik scored following a rare Shark attack after 68 minutes (23-14), but Jean de Villiers handed off Lambie to score and take Province well clear (33-14) in the closing minutes.
The Sharks did score after the final hooter with Lambie, back at flyhalf, breaking strongly for Addi Jacobs to cross (33-21), but it was too little far too late.
The Blue Bulls booked their semi-final place trip to Durban with a strong forward showing in beating Griquas 48-36 in Kimberley.
The victory was far more decisive than the final scoreline suggests with a couple of late tries narrowing the gap as the Bulls relaxed.
But Griqua wing did bring some cheer to the home crowd with two tries to stretch his tally to 21 and surpassing the record held by Carel du Plessis for the most tries in a Currie Cup season.
Wynand Olivier excelled in the Bulls team, but it was their strong pack which laid the platform for a good win.