And so, with a win, the end finally arrived for Sharks after their horrible season
THE Sharks brought down the curtain on their eminently forgettable Super Rugby season at King’s Park on Saturday night, but there was an undeniably feeling at half-time that the end of the campaign could not come soon enough.
The Sharks, facing an under-strength Stormers outfit, were determined to finish in style and provide the Du Plessis brothers and Willem Alberts with a rousing sendoff. Instead they made a real meal of it and it was only in the final half-hour that they, and their supporters, could relax and enjoy the farewell party — and a 34-12 win.
Their first half was like a recurring nightmare as the Sharks, with an unconvincing 13-9 lead, provided a 40-minute package of just why they have failed so dismally this season. The disjointed team piled error upon error, the backplay lacked cohesion, rhythm and skill, their discipline was poor — there was the inevitable yellow card — and there was a real lack of urgency. The passing was particularly sloppy and scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer constantly tested the slip-catching skills of flyhalf Lionel Cronje.
Overall, it was a damning display and the result was that the young Stormers defenders found it easy to pick off the sloppy Sharks backs.
Gary Gold’s tactical change at half-time, and a return to Brendan Venter’s 2013 Currie Cup final blueprint, turned the game on its head. The Natal halves that day, Charl McLeod and Pat Lambie, unlocked the defence not by bashing away in midfield but by playing behind Western Province’s flat-lining backs and turning them with their varied kick-and-chase game on the way to a 33-19 win.
And so it was on Saturday that just about everyone, even hooker Bismarck du Plessis and flank Willem Alberts, resorted to chip-kicking in the second half. It was overdone at times, but they did successfully find acres of space, break up the Stormers’ defence, fashion tries and provide something for their battle-scarred supporters to celebrate.
The Sharks, to their credit and even in their bad moments, kept tackling and you cannot quibble with a victory margin of five tries to four penalties. Flank Marcell Coetzee, as usual, led the defensive effort and he also looked a far more complete player when he balanced his headlong charge into opposition ranks with a couple of off-loads.
The departing Springboks, in the end, fittingly left to cheers on an emotional night, but not before we had all been reminded again and again of the Sharks’ many nagging problems this season