Vodacom Super 14
Sharks end season on a high
Pienaar tackles Dunning (Gallo)
Durban - It wasn’t quite the flourish that the Sharks might have hoped to end the season with, but their 27-22 win over the Western Force in their final Super 14 match did confirm that this was a year that might have been.
Perhaps the Sharks season can be described as a Curate’s egg, in other words, good in parts. And that would just about sum up this game, with the Sharks firing impressively in patches, but depending mainly on their scrambling defence to keep the Force at bay for the rest of a match that the Force shaded quite convincingly in terms of the battle for possession.
The first 10 minutes summed up the match. The Force started as if they had a train to catch, and after Nathan Sharpe challenged successfully for the ball from his team’s kick-off, the Australian outfit set in motion an attack that went through 13 to 15 phases before it was finally halted.
It did not take long for the Sharks to string together an attack that bore fruit, with Jannie du Plessis and Patrick Lambie combining well on the short-side of a ruck as quick hands put Lwazi Mvovo in for the first try of the game.
Ruan Pienaar’s conversion made it 7-0 after as many minutes, and it looked like the Durbanites were on their way. But the Force had other ideas as they capitalised on a good comeback in terms of territory and possession domination by kicking four penalties to take a 12-7 lead after half an hour.
But while most of the Sharks’ possession was of the untidy variety, and this meant that halfbacks Rory Kockott and Ruan Pienaar weren’t quite in the same irresistible form as last week, the scrum continued the momentum started last week against the Stormers.
So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the second Sharks try, when it came, was the product of an excellent right shoulder scrum, No8 barrelling over for Pienaar’s conversion to reclaim the lead for the Sharks at 14-12. Two more penalties were traded in the remaining six minutes of the half to make it 17-15 to the Sharks at half-time.
At that stage the Force were very much in the game as they dominated most of the statistics, just the two well scored tries getting the Sharks into the ascendancy.
The Force started the second half like they started the first, with a sustained attack this time being thwarted by a poor decision as a ball was put to boot and directly into touch ingoal. The upshot was another missed opportunity, and after 48 minutes it was the Sharks who made them pay for that mistake when a strong forward drive sent Jacques Botes in for the score.
The Pienaar conversion made it 24-15 as for the first time the Sharks enjoyed a buffer, but the Force weren’t finished. In the 61st minute they produced the try of the match, and possibly of their season, as James O’Connor weaved past a couple of Sharks players from behind his own tryline to set up a counter-attack that was eventually rounded off by Nick Cummings in the opposite corner of the field.
A Pienaar penalty stretched it to 27-22, and it should have been 30-22 as he missed a kickable attempt three minutes from time, but the Force, for all the playing they did, just never looked like rounding off a move like they needed to do in order to get across the line as winners.
The win was the seventh in the last eight matches for the Sharks and although it was too little too late for their semifinal challenge it did enable them to end the season with a measure of pride that did not seem possible when they lost their first five matches.
The Sharks - Tries: Lwazi Mvovo, Ryan Kankowski, Jacques Botes. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (3). Penalties: R Pienaar (2).
Western Force - Try: Nick Cummins. Conversion : James O`Connor. Penalties: Brett Sheehan (2), J O`Connor (3).Teams:
15. Patrick Lambie , 14. Odwa Ndungane ,
13. Stefan Terblanche , 12. Riaan Swanepoel , 11. Lwazi Mvovo , 10.
Ruan Pienaar , 9. Rory Kockott , 8. Ryan Kankowski , 7. Jean Deysel ,
6. Jacques Botes , 5. Alistair Hargreaves , 4. Steven Sykes , 3. Jannie
du Plessis , 2. John Smit (captain) , 1. Tendai Mtawarira
16. Craig Burden , 17. Patric Cilliers , 18. Wilhelm Steenkamp , 19.
Keegan Daniel , 20. Charl McLeod , 21. Andy Goode , 22. Andries Strauss
15. James O'Connor, 14. Nick Cummins, 13. Mitch Inman, 12.
Ryan Cross, 11. Cameron Shepherd, 10. Mark Bartholomeusz, 9. Brett
Sheehan, 8. Richard Brown, 7. David Pocock, 6. Matt Hodgson, 5. Nathan
Sharpe (captain), 4. Ben McCalman, 3. Tim Fairbrother, 2. Ben Whittaker,
1. Pek Cowan
Substitutes: 16. Nathan Charles, 17. Matt Dunning,
18. Sam Wykes, 19. Tom Hockings, 20. Justin Turner, 21. Sam Harris, 22.