It may have required a nauseating roller-coaster ride to do it, but the Sharks are in the semifinals of this year’s Vodacom Super 14.
In a game that took a life of its own — the final scoreline only tells half the story of the frenzied nature of this encounter — Dick Muir’s charges barn- stormed into the semis in spite of a game Chiefs showing.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa writes for the Sunday Times that for the most part, the Sharks’ forwards had this one under control, save for a nasty third quarter where the visitors got to within three points as their backs ran amok.
The result means the Sharks fly to Sydney tonight to front up to the Waratahs, while the other semifinal will be an all-New Zealand affair between the Crusaders and Hurricanes in Christchurch.
It was performance that forced one to ask where the Sharks had been all season as they outscored a side with a better backline by seven tries to three.
Knowing they either needed a bonus-points win or to win by 18 points to make the semifinals, the Sharks started appropriately enough.
The Sharks scrum immediately located the reverse gear for the Chiefs — their rolling maul regularly took 20m to stop — and their lineouts were a 100% improvement on last week’s shambles against the Cheetahs.
Even more critical to their initial success was their conversion of opportunities. In the first half, they had four chances and finished three of them.
Those virtues had brought them to within one try of the required haul to force their way into the semis.
For their part, the injury-ravaged Chiefs were content to allow the hosts to do most of the playing and punish them on the break with what must easily be the fastest and most skilful backline in the competition.
Where their forwards had parity was in the lineouts and at the murderous breakdowns. Having spent most of the week in the sickbay, it was a brave effort by their forwards, but they simply have to be competitive in more areas to give their backs a chance.
The man-of-the-match award went to bullocking hooker Bismarck du Plessis but, for once, they should have given a collective award to the eight donkeys up front.
Prop “Beast” Mtawarira was all grunt up front, AJ Venter was almost the warrior of old, flanker Jacques Botes was omnipresent and No8 Ryan Kankowski was all pace, power and skill.
Among the backs, scrumhalf Rory Kockott was typically pugnacious and accurate in front of goal, while fullback Stefan Terblanche was all vigilance in patrolling the last line of defence.
Most encouraging for the coaching staff were the performances of flyhalf Ruan Pienaar and winger JP Pietersen.
As a retreaded flyhalf, the natural scrumhalf finally looked to have embraced the challenge of playing in his new position.
He backed himself and took a lot of the decision-making responsibility, even though some of what he tried did not work.
Pietersen may not have scored all season, but he did a lot of grafting on and off the ball to play a critical role in the final outcome.
Muir and his coaches would have been happiest with the constant try-scoring threat their side were throughout, as finishing off chances has been an issue throughout the round- robin stages.
But spare a thought for the Stormers, whose revolution this season was finally snuffed out by the performance of a team that had been the no-hopers of the tournament.
Sharks 47 — Tries: Ruan Pienaar, Adrian Jacobs, Bismarck du Plessis, Steven Sykes, Ryan Kankowski (2), Odwa Ndungane. Conversions: Rory Kockott (6).
Chiefs 25 — Tries: Faifili Levave, Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu. Conversions: Stephen Donald (2). Penalties: Donald (2).Tweet