The Sharks’ spirited late charge for Vodacom Super 14 glory came to a grinding halt in Sydney on Saturday as the Waratahs scored a comprehensive and well deserved 28-13 win in their semifinal.
Gavin Rich writes for Superrugby that this puts the Waratahs on course for a meeting with the Crusaders in next week’s final in Christchurch, a clash which now has added interest in that, on the evidence of the semifinal, Robbie Deans is going to be coaching his men against the core of his new team.
Deans, the successful coach of the Crusaders, takes over the coaching of the Wallabies after next week, and while he will be going all out to end his long and successful tenure at the Crusaders on a winning note, his eye on the future would have left him well pleased with what he saw from the Waratahs.
The disturbing reality for the other Tri-Nations teams is that the Waratahs have shocked friend and foe in this competition by fronting up in the exact areas where for so long Australian rugby was assumed to be found wanting. They have possibly the biggest and most physical pack in the competition, and against the Sharks they also produced a testosterone driven defensive effort that would have made the 1995 Springboks proud.
That, in a nutshell, was where this game was won and lost, with the Waratahs frightening the Sharks inside backs with the ferocity of their tackling, while the home side, with the help possibly of South African-born lock Daniel Vickerman’s understanding of Afrikaans, dominated the lineouts in the first half.
This ensured that, like in the recent league match in Sydney, where the Sharks also lost by 15 points, the Sharks simply had the life squeezed out of them. They had no room to move, space was limited, and with the Waratahs always having the go-forward, the likes of Ruan Pienaar, Frans Steyn and Adrian Jacobs repeatedly received man and ball at the same time.
LITANY OF ERRORS
And when the man that you receive at the same time as the ball is Phil Waugh, Rocky Elsom or Wycliff Palu, then the net result is a litany of errors of the sort that the Sharks made in Sydney and which kept them chugging in first gear, at times even reverse gear, until the 60th minute.
That was when Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie made a couple of replacements that gave the Sharks some breathing space, and it was during this period that they scored their only try of the match through replacement hooker Craig Burden.
At the time there were 11 minutes left on the clock, and just briefly some hope flickered through the hearts of Sharks supporters, but it was a vain hope, and a Kurtley Beale drop-goal from five minutes from the hooter finally extinguished the Sharks’ ambition.
Had they come back with some miracle at the death it would have defied belief, however, as the 15 point difference between the two teams may have flattered the visitors. Had Beale had his place-kicking boot on, and had the Waratahs not released the attacking pressure in the last quarter, when their passage to Christchurch was already booked, the Australian outfit could have won by 30.
It started encouragingly enough for the Sharks, with the forwards driving the ball up and the backs running confidently before Pienaar slotted a second minute drop-goal that put the Sharks into a 3-0 lead.
They had quite a bit of the play in the first ten minutes to a quarter of an hour, but it was noticeable that most of it was in their own half, and that little impression was being made on the Waratahs defence. As the game wore on, so it became clearer that the Waratahs were comprehensively winning the collisions, and Sharks coach Dick Muir’s decision to include Epi Taione as a surprise late inclusion in the starting line-up backfired horribly.
Indeed, considering this was now officially Muir’s last match in charge of the Sharks, it is now perhaps time to reflect on his contribution to Sharks rugby. There is no denying that he was the man that resurrected the franchise, and he did wonderfully well as coach, but in two successive knockout games he has made decisions that contributed to his team not picking up the silverware that perhaps his efforts deserved.
The first was last year, when he replaced the experienced duo of John Smit and Percy Montgomery for the crucial final minutes of the decider against the Bulls, and the second was the Taione selection, and possibly that of Frans Steyn as inside centre when Brad Barritt had done so well the week before.
The Sharks looked a lot more settled with ball in hand when Barritt came on as a replacement, and maybe the Sharks have paid a high price for too seldom this season observing that old dictum that you shouldn’t tamper with a winning combination.
Given the jitters of the Sharks backs, it wasn’t at all surprising when Lote Tuqiri jetted in for the first try off a ball that rolled loose after Jacobs lost it when tackled, and then Rob Horne rounded off a strong line movement just minutes later.
The Waratahs delivered the coup de grace straight after the break when their forwards and backs combined in a surge that eventually saw Beale go over, before scrumhalf Luke Burgess burst away off an intercept near a Sharks scrum for try number four.
The Sharks were well beaten, and there is no denying that the best two teams in the competition have made it to the final. Springbok coach Peter de Villiers should have been taking copious notes, for there is a lot for him to be concerned about as the international season hurries up the track.
Waratahs (15) 28: Tries by Lote Tuqiri (26 min), Rob Horne (30 min), Kurtley Beale (42 min), Luke Burgess (45 min). Beale kicked a conversion, a penalty and a dropped goal.
Sharks (6) 13: Try by Craig Burden (71 min). Rory Kockott kicked a conversion, Ruan Pienaar a dropped goal and Francois Steyn a penalty.Tweet