Rob Houwing

Steyn illustrated Sharks’ spirit

2013-10-28 07:19
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Cape Town – It was difficult to know if the hefty Frans Steyn was really injured – he was certainly hobbling a bit– or just plain old knackered.

But as the Sharks inside centre made his way off the Newlands pitch on Saturday, propped up by one of their hard-pressed medical men as if a convenient mobile sofa of sorts, he was also grinning very broadly ... and more often than not he gives the impression of being a fairly serious and mysterious character.

An array of slaps, hugs or high fives greeted him from the appreciative ranks of the visiting substitutes’ bench as the big unit finally got there, because already it was quite apparent the Sharks had done enough to wrestle back the trophy in splendid fashion from old coastal foes Western Province.

He – and they -- knew he’d offered an almighty, 72-minute shift in the Currie Cup final, only his second game back after recovery from a long-term injury and quite an achievement considering he managed only a heavy-breathing, moderate 40 minutes or so in the semi-final triumph over the Cheetahs in damp Durban a week earlier.

So Steyn very clearly dug deep for the cause, on a day when several of their other, not-optimally-fit heavyweights did likewise.

He put a strong stamp on the sold-out showpiece fixture early on, making some clattering, template-laying tackles and looking every bit as brawny and committed as, say, blindside flank bruiser Willem Alberts in ruck and turnover situations.

The versatile Springbok remains a frustrating character, as he probably continues to carry more bulk than he arguably needs to and is not nearly as fleet-footed as when he burst onto the first-class and Test scene as a teenager.

But Currie Cup finals are won on hard inches and yards, not frills and fancy stepping; his contribution to a famous team effort in raiding the intended Cape “carnival” was enormous and now (assuming he has no new injury woe) he seems tailor-made to return to Bok duty on the heavy pitches of Europe where his rugged attributes are perhaps best employed.

Province, and by extension the Stormers in Super Rugby, are supposed to be the South African market-leaders in defensive organisation, awareness and commitment, but on Saturday the Sharks stole their thunder in that department, Steyn and company making it desperately difficult for them to gain any traction over the advantage line, rattling them in the process as WP became prone to mistake after mistake as the spluttering hosts largely probed cul-de-sacs and took grotesquely wrong options.

What will please new Sharks honchos like CEO John Smit and the incoming director of rugby Jake White – though supporters of the Durban outfit owe gratitude to Brendan Venter for his short-term Midas touch -- was the way callow and crusty customers alike combined in effectiveness and iron will to gradually drive the home team and their ever-fervent supporters to despair.

This was amply demonstrated in Pieter-Steph du Toit, only 21 for two months now, being the standout lock on the park – it is not often this happens these days when one Eben Etzebeth is involved in proceedings – and earning the official player-of-the-match mantle.

Several greatly more senior statesmen in the Sharks’ ranks had been uncertain starters in the lead-up week, but their willingness to bite the bullet come the big day played a key role in this triumph: you could see that tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis was not wholly comfortable with his only recently un-bandaged hand, but gave a plucky enough 45-minute contribution.

And the way his younger brother Bismarck was whooping and dancing afterwards, after another typically steel-chinned and utterly unyielding personal showing, only reminded of just what Currie Cup success still means to South Africa’s finest players, regardless of how marginalised the competition has become in many respects.

This startlingly clear-cut defeat was a blow to WP pride in their own supposed stronghold, make no mistake, but their major personnel were suitably contrite in lauding the Sharks’ superiority over these particular 80 minutes when so many more customary Province “efficiencies” – like high-ball management and a polished lineout – went lamentably AWOL.

If it is any consolation to the Newlands faithful, they still have a depth of talent in most positions to remain highly credible challengers at both Currie Cup and Super Rugby level; my long-range forecast is that the two coastal powers will quite comfortably lead the SA charge in 2014 in the last-named competition.

There is an ongoing conveyor belt of youthful prospects sprouting up in Cape Town, something demonstrated in the WP U21 team’s trophy triumph in the main curtain-raiser over a Blue Bulls outfit peppered with several already known Currie Cup-standard players.

And boy, don’t the Sharks still have a lot of “hardebaarde” to call on ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    sharks  |  currie cup  |  willem alberts  |  rugby

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