28 October 2013
The Natal Sharks captured the Absa Currie Cup for the seventh time at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday evening after a stirring 33-19 victory over Western Province.
The tension-filled clash was a wonderful advertisement for South African rugby, and for the third year in succession the underdog came out the winner.
After going through the round robin stage of the competition unbeaten, with eight wins and two draws, Western Province, with home ground advantage, were favourites to lift the title, even though, with the return of Springbok players to the Currie Cup, the Sharks boasted 11 Springboks in their starting line-up to six for Western Province.
The favourites’ tag was justified, however, as Province had beaten the Sharks, with all of the Durban-based team’s Springboks on board, 25-18 in the 2012 final in Durban.
Province’s victory in 2012 came after the Sharks had beaten them twice in the round robin stage of the competition. This time around the roles were reversed, with the Sharks having lost twice to the team from Cape Town in 2013 before defeating them in Saturday’s final.
In a very physical game, the men from Natal dominated the tackles, breakdowns and lineouts. All three of those aspects have in recent years been the strengths of Western Province and Stormers rugby and when the home team ceded superiority to the Sharks in those areas, they effectively surrendered the game to the fired-up visitors.
Effective game plan
Province’s ability to slow down the opposition’s ball and win turnovers at the breakdown, along with solid set piece ball, is the foundation of their game, but the Sharks had clearly done their homework well and prepared an effective game plan to counteract the Cape team’s strength, and, most importantly, they were able to implement that game plan.
Their victory was built upon a superior kicking game, led by flyhalf Patrick Lambie and fullback SP Marais, which kept the hosts pinned in their own half.
Lambie controlled the contest superbly with excellent decision making, kicking and passing at the right times. The only blot on his copybook were three missed kicks at goal. However, five successful penalties, two drop goals and a conversion, to go along with his fine all-round performance, more than made up for any misses.
His halfback partner Charl McLeod also turned in a fantastic performance. He got the Sharks onto the scoreboard through an intercept try that covered 65 metres and later in the match added a second five-pointer after a superb cleanout by Bismarck du Plessis and Stephan Lewies cleared the way to the tryline for him.
McLeod, like Lambie, also kicked exceptionally well. His little dinks just over the Western Province defensive line caused plenty of problems for the home team and he also cleared from the base of the scrum efficiently.
Up front, lock Pieter-Steph du Toit, long identified as a future Springbok, turned in a man of the match winning performance that suggested that his time to don the green and gold is now. He stole three Western Province lineout balls, made numerous tackles, carried the ball up strongly and was imperious in receiving kicks off.
The kick offs were one of the areas in which the Sharks clearly outperformed Western Province and they made a big difference to the outcome of the contest.
Western Province, though, is a team of character and they fought manfully, but could not overcome the committed gang tackling of the men in black and white, their slick handling and a team engine that ran full out for the duration of the contest.
Fullback Gio Aplon proved once more that size is not everything and was well backed up by the fleet-footed Cheslin Kolbe, but Francois Steyn kept Springbok captain Jean de Villiers still in the midfield with a rugged defensive effort.
The gap between the teams on the day was, however, considerable. Had Lambie landed a few more kicks and had not one or two tries been disallowed, thanks to the television match official, it could have been a huge victory for the Sharks.
As it was, the Currie Cup final was an entertaining spectacle to the end and the role of referee Jonathan Kaplan should be recognised. Refereeing his last game, he controlled the contest superbly to end his wonderful career, which included a world record 68 tests, on a high note.
There were tears in his eyes as he received his medal after the game, and it was well deserved.
Recent Currie Cup history
There have been five different winners of the title in the last seven years, with the Sharks, with three titles, the only team to have lifted the Currie Cup more than once.
Remarkably, the sixth team in the A-Division of the tournament, Griquas, beat the Sharks in Durban to kick start the 2013 tournament and went down by just a single point to the eventual champions in the return fixture in Kimberley. That’s remarkable because Griquas were relegated to the B-Division on the weekend, losing out to the Pumas.
At the very least, it’s an indication that there is reasonable parity and depth in the top tier of South African domestic rugby.
DHL Western Province 19 (13)
Tries: Damian de Allende, Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis, Penalties: Catrakilis (3), Kurt Coleman
The Sharks 33 (19)
Tries: Charl McLeod (2), Conversions: Pat Lambie, Penalties: Pat Lambie (5), Drop Goals: Lambie (2)