27 October 2008
The Sharks claimed a well-deserved fifth Currie Cup title with a 14-9 win over the Blue Bulls in the final on Saturday. After a big build-up to the game in Durban, the mostly local Absa Stadium crowd, which was electric and vocal, greeted the home team’s first Currie Cup title in 12 years with a massive roar.
Bulls’ captain Victor Matfield said: “The Sharks were awesome. They were really motivated in front of that fantastic crowd.”
Despite the closeness of the score, the Sharks were full value for their win, which was more convincing than the five-point difference might suggest; tenacious Bulls’ defence ensured the margin was not bigger.
Sharks’ captain Johann Muller said afterwards that his side never felt they were going to lose.
Big match temperament
While Muller and company had finished top of the log to earn a home final, some felt the Bulls’ greater experience and success in finals would prove decisive. The Sharks, though, answered any questions about their big match temperament with a disciplined, high-intensity performance that netted them two tries to nil.
There were also suggestions in the lead up to the game that the Bulls would try to play a forward-dominated game, using their traditional strength in the set pieces, and when light rain fell they felt they conditions would suit the Bulls. It was an interesting theory, but the Sharks started an all-Springbok front row, while the Bulls did not have one opposing them and it showed.
Muller and Steven Sykes effectively secured their ball in the lineouts, where the Blue Bulls posed a big threat in captain Victor Matfield and Danie Rossouw.
Kicking was always going to be important in a final, both out of hand and at goal and, while both teams missed a number of kicks at posts, the Sharks played effectively and stuck to their game plan by taking few chances in their half and kicking, even if it meant conceding a lineout to the opposition.
Fullback Stefan Terblanche masterfully covered the Bulls’ tactical, probing kicks, including high-up-and-unders, and returned them with interest, which helped put the home team onto the front foot.
In the battle for the loose ball the Sharks again enjoyed the edge, while flank Jean Deysel was outstanding in his role as a ball carrier.
Emulated his compatriot
Scrumhalves Ruan Pienaar and Fourie du Preez both directed play well from the back of the scrums, while Frenchman Freddie Michalak turned in an assured performance as he emulated his compatriot Thierry Lacroix by wearing the number 10 jersey in a Sharks’ Currie Cup win.
Outside of Michalak, big Francois Steyn put pressure on the visitors’ backline with his power and fast feet.
Coach John Plumtree, who had been a member of the last Sharks team to win the Currie Cup, made all the right moves. His decision to start Bismarck du Plessis at hooker ahead of John Smit was rewarded with a powerful performance from the younger man and late in the game he effectively used his bench to ensure there was no way through for the Bulls as they tried to snatch a late victory.
The early going was filled with probing kicks, typical of a final, where neither team wants to give anything away.
After both Morne Steyn and Ruan Pienaar had failed with kicks at goal, the Bulls came close to hitting the front when Bryan Habana intercepted a pass from Francois Steyn. Michalak, however, slowed him down with an ankle tap and Steyn made a try-saving tackle.
It was Pienaar who finally got the scoreboard moving in the 23rd minute. After a nice run by JP Pietersen, Pienaar broke around the ruck, beating a tackle, before being hauled down from behind. However, he stretched out his right arm and just managed to place the ball over the tryline.
Pienaar converted his try to put the Sharks 7-0 ahead.
Almost immediately the Bulls replied as Steyn landed a penalty to make it 7-3.
That was the score at halftime. The Sharks had enjoyed the better of the play, but Pienaar had missed three penalties to the one that Steyn had missed.
Two minutes into the second half the Bulls pulled to within a single point when Steyn struck a beautiful drop goal from 40 metres out.
The Sharks responded well to the threat and upped the pressure on the Bulls. They had the upper hand in the scrums and were mostly playing in the opposition’s half.
With an hour played, the Sharks extended their lead when Francois Steyn crossed for a well worked try. After they had kept the Bulls on the back foot for some time, good work by Bismarck du Plessis and Michalak put the big centre in the clear and he raced over on the left.
Michalak was called on to take the conversion and he split the upright to make it 14-6 to the hosts.
Once again the Bulls responded almost immediately with a penalty to the Sharks’ try with Steyn’s successful kick making it 14-9.
No way through
Muller’s men weren’t going to buckle and they imposed themselves on the Bulls again. With time running out, the visitors attempted to run the ball a little more, but there was no way through a resolute Sharks’ defence.
Finally Jean Deysel was able to clear the ball for touch and the Absa Stadium, Durban, and KwaZulu-Natal erupted, sparking off celebrations through the night.
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