Natal Sharks lift Currie Cup

1 November 2010

The Natal Sharks were crowned rugby champions of South Africa after outplaying Western Province 30-10 in the Currie Cup final in front of a sold-out crowd in Durban on Saturday. It was their second title in three seasons.

A very close game had been expected, with Western Province slightly favoured to win its first Currie Cup title since 2001. Ironically, on that occasion they beat the Sharks, but that game took place at Newlands, not in front of a crowd of 52 000 that was solidly behind the Sharks.

After the game, Sharks’ coach John Plumtree said playing at home had been a big factor in his side’s success. “It was so special, especially in front of that crowd,” he said.

‘It was amazing’

“It was amazing and it was so important that we secured that home semi-final as you could see just what a difference it makes.”

The 30-10 margin of victory and the fact that the Sharks topped the log and then beat both Super 14 finalists – the Blue Bulls (the Bulls) in the semi-finals and Western Province (the Stormers) in the final – shows Natal to be worthy champions. Indeed, they played like a champion in the playoffs.

They did the basics far better than Western Province and, crucially, played a far better tactical game. The Sharks also had one of the leading emerging stars of South African rugby at flyhalf and Patrick Lambie, who has just turned in 20, turned in a remarkably composed and decisive performance.

He was responsible for 25 of the Sharks’ 30 points and played like a veteran Springbok, although he earned his first call-up only after the game when he was named in the squad to tour the northern hemisphere in November and December.

Solo effort

Lambie scored two of the Sharks’ three tries, converted all three, and added three penalties to go along with Charl McLeod’s try. His solo effort in the 13th minute was a stunning slice of genius which saw him side-step his opposite number Willem de Waal, break through Adriaan Fondse’s attempted tackle, and fend off Western Province captain Schalk Burger before diving over underneath the uprights.

However, although he lauded Lambie and centre Andries Strauss, Sharks’ coach John Plumtree made it very clear that it was a team performance that won his side the Cup.

Strauss was mentioned by Plumtree because of an immense defensive effort, with some huge hits, which helped blunt Western Province’s attacking efforts in the midfield, an area where some had suggested they held a decisive edge with Springboks Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh.

Dynamic

Scrumhalf Charl McLeod played only one half before leaving with an injury, but he was dynamic in his time on the field and thoroughly outplayed his opposite number Ricky Januarie, who last only 18 minutes.

In the seventh minute, after a Bismarck du Plessis steal in midfield, McLeod put in a clever kick down the field. Lwazi Mvovo, another of the Sharks to earn a first call up to the Springboks, won the chase and gathered the ball. He was tackled almost immediately, but McLeod was up in support to take the pass and go over for a try.

After McLeod’s try and Lambie’s conversion, the Sharks were 17-3 up and went on to lead 23-3 as Lambie added two penalties. Province scored a try through captain Schalk Burger near half-time, converted by Willem de Waal to make it 23-10, but that was the end of their scoring.

With their two halfbacks significantly better than their opposing numbers, the Sharks controlled the game. Their defensive effort was also controlled and impressive.

The battle of the turnover

They won the battle of the turnover with Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel and Willem Alberts forming a very effective combination. After the game, Daniel, whose size is not that of a prototypical Springbok flank, was named in the Boks’ touring squad, which is testament to the fine season he turned in.

Alberts, a fearsome ball-carrier and defender, also was called up. No doubt, he is thrilled with his first season with the Sharks after making the move from the Lions.

Hooker Bismarck du Plessis was immense for the Sharks around the field, but maybe their secret lay with his front row partner and brother Jannie du Plessis. The doctor, it appears, has the winning recipe.

Five out of five

He has played in five finals and been on the winning side on all five occasions. He won three times with the Cheetahs, in 2005, 2006, and 2007, before claiming titles with the Sharks in 2008 and 2010.

That’s quite a record and one wonders if Du Plessis thinks there is anything easy about winning the Currie Cup. After all, Western Province captain Schalk Burger, a wonderful player and a star for the Springboks, has never won the Currie Cup!

Another record to consider – and it backs up Sharks’ coach John Plumtree’s thoughts on the importance of earning the right to play the final at home by finishing top of the log and winning their semifinal – is the fact that the team from Durban finished the season unbeaten at home.

It’s something that gave Sharks’ fans plenty to smile about during the season and they were rewarded for their support on Saturday when the team won its sixth Currie Cup title.

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