Sharks build head of steam

    2013-03-03 09:17

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Durban - If anyone who pitched up for the Super Rugby derby between the Sharks and Stormers at Kings Park here had wished to see some sort of cerebral rugby version of an art-house movie, they would quickly have realised they’d taken a wrong turn and ended up at the slaughterhouse instead.

    Rough, tough and utterly unyielding, Saturday’s all-penalties encounter - for the record the home team won 12-6 - was another of those modern, quintessentially South African slug-fests to leave rugby romantics of old either turning in their graves or spluttering on their whisky.

    Like many stadium press boxes, the Kings Park one is smack on the halfway line and that had a special advantage - though even that word is used with great caution - for this encounter, if only because so astonishingly little in the way of meaningful play actually got into either 22-metre area.

    VIDEO: Sharks v Stormers, highlights

    Instead derby zeal and murderous, slow-yards physicality and commitment ruled the roost, a situation only aggravated by the late summer warmth and mugginess which contributed to sometimes obscene handling lapses and a tedious ping-pong of respective high-ball launches simply because that often seemed the best way of effecting some kind of breakthrough.

    All that said, there was still a contented smile on the face of winning coach John Plumtree afterwards, who conceded it had been a “pressure” game in the truest sense, and certainly no enterprising spectacle.

    “Before this game I spoke to the boys about just ‘inches’ ... the big thing on a night like this one. We just had to be patient.

    “We went away from our attacking theme a little in the first half, and in the second half got a wee bit more momentum and also some width, but the Stormers hit you so hard ... if you go away from the plan, they can hit you; have you on the back foot.

    “We battled for meterage, so the kicking game became really important for both teams and I thought we kicked quite well ... JP (Pietersen), Lwazi (Mvovo), Pat (Lambie) kicked well so that was pleasing to see.

    “I guess the set-piece worked well enough - we put them under a lot of pressure; in the past we haven’t been able to do that to a Stormers lineout, for instance.

    “Franco van der Merwe has been an outstanding (acquisition) for the team, a great character. He’s Johann Muller reincarnated, and we’ve missed Johann quite a bit in the second row so that’s fantastic.

    “We also knew the scrum was an area they would have tidied up during the week, but also one where we obviously wanted to try and get them.

    “I’d said to Jannie (du Plessis, the Springbok tighthead who earned his 100th Super Rugby cap) that it might not be in the first to 20th minute, but that by the 60th or 70th it could make a difference.

    “I think we won two or three penalties from scrum-time which was really pleasing, relieving pressure or earning a couple of points.

    “The scrum is going really well at the moment and Etienne Fynn (Sharks scrummaging coach and former Bok front-ranker) must take a lot of credit for that. It’s a big weapon for us.

    “I think Jonathan Kaplan got it right ... the scrum was going down with the Stormers under pressure and he didn’t have much patience, so good on him.”

    Although several forwards on each side came to the party for limb-rattling relish and work-rate, Sharks flank Jean Deysel was probably a deserved pick for player of the match, and you weren’t hearing any objections from the Sharks coach.

    “Jean Deysel played really well; he’s had a tough couple of years but we’ve persevered with him and he’s shown what he can do.

    “That knee of his is right (now), he’s lost a bit of weight, so he’s reached the little goals I set for him and I’m pleased for him ... he’ll be a happy man after this game.”

    The Sharks lie just one point shy of the Bulls at the top of the SA conference after the hard-earned win - the Pretoria outfit made alarmingly heavy weather of knocking over the Force at Loftus, but sneaked not only the victory but a four-try bonus point as well at the death.

    Frans Steyn and company, however, know that the now nought-from-two Stormers have another unenviable fixture next weekend - at home to in-form champions the Chiefs – whilst the Bulls start their ever-demanding, four-match overseas leg with a clash against the Blues at Eden Park.

    Chances are, then, that the Sharks will seize control of the conference during March: they make the pretty short trek next to Port Elizabeth for Saturday’s meeting with the novice Kings, and then have home dates with the Brumbies and Rebels before the month ends.

    Frankly, they are likely to be installed as favourites for all three of those games, even given the constant danger of “banana peels” in this competition.

    You also get the sense from Plumtree that his charges will be especially wary this season of botching matches they are expected to win.

    “We know if we under-estimate anyone we can get hurt; we know that from experience. Hopefully we’ve grown up a bit in that regard, realising our mistakes of the past.

    “We’ve set a goal of winning this conference - easy to say, harder to do it. We’ve let ourselves down in the past; we must respect everyone we come up against. If you don’t, that’s when you get hurt.

    “We’re expecting it to be pretty patriotic down in PE ... they’ve come off a win, the crowd will be right behind them and they’ll have enjoyed their first experience. They’ll be looking forward to the next one, and the next one’s us. The warning signs are there.”

    Hmm, perhaps the Kings should be warned of the extent of the threat facing them next Saturday, too ...

     *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing  

    Read More On:  sharks stormers super 15 durban rugby

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