The Sharks claimed the top spot in the Currie Cup after an emphatic 34 –25 victory over their rivals, the Blue Bulls. The match that was billed a humdinger during the build-up certainly lived up to expectation and set a new tone for the local competition. With each team scoring four brilliant tries, the match was ultimately decided by the boot, and it was in this department that the Sharks’ Ruan Pienaar proved to be stronger than the Bulls’ Morne Steyn.
The game started at good pace, thanks to the beautiful weather conditions in Durban, but it was the visitors who drew first blood when Wynand Olivier broke the Sharks’ defensive line following a signature Matfield lineout take. Olivier handed off the young Frans Steyn before handing the ball over to his central partner Delport to score under the posts. Morne Steyn made no mistake with the simple conversion to give the visitors a 7-0 lead within the first 10 minutes on the clock.
The Sharks did not panic and they were rewarded roughly 10 minutes later, when the rejuvenated Stefan Terblanche made a superb run and managed to play a well-timed pass to Odwa Ndungane, who scored after being afforded too much space by his opposing wing Bryan Habana. Pienaar converted the try and added 3 more points via a penalty kick later in the half to ensure that the Sharks took a 10-7 lead to halftime.
The Sharks were dealt a cruel blow when Brad Barritt had to be replaced early in the second half after suffering a mild concussion. This dark cloud proved to have a silver lining though as his replacement JP Pietersen scored a magnificent try after a good steal by Fred Michalak. Pienaar extended the lead to 17-7, slotting in a potentially tricky conversion.
The mood in the stadium was soon to change though as Wynand Olivier ran through the Sharks and allowed skipper Matfield to pick up and score. Morne missed the conversion but Olivier made his presence felt again moments later when he collected an Akona Ndungane chip to level the scores at 17-17. Steyn’s conversion hit the upright but he did finally claim the lead for the Blue Bulls through a penalty. The Ndungane-Olivier connection tormented the Sharks again when a Ndungane grubber confused the Sharks defence, only for Olivier to pick up and score the bonus point try.
The colour blue suddenly dominated the Shark-Tank’s interior décor and everywhere you turned you were bound to spot Sharks’ fans shaking their heads in disbelief. The Sharks dug deep once again and Terblanche held on to a Michalak pass to score the Sharks third try of the match. Pienaar kept the Sharks in the game with the conversion that pushed the score to 24-25. It was Pienaar yet again who edged the Sharks to a 27-24 lead through a well-taken penalty with 10 minutes left to play.
Before the match I had predicted that this was going to be Frans Steyn’s comeback game; let’s just safely say I’m not about to add Nostradamus to my long list of nicknames. I did get it right though when I predicted a late Keegan Daniel bonus point try, and what a try it was. Some people tried to label that piece of magic as 50 percent skill and 50 percent luck but I was quick to point out that “fortune favours the brave”, and bravery in such a tough encounter certainly counts as skill. Take a bow Keegan! Ruan’s conversion stretched the lead to 34-25, which ensured that the Bulls were more than a converted try away and that was how it was to remain till the final whistle.
Man of the match went to Ruan Pienaar, who clearly he deserved it for winning his duels against Morne Steyn and Fourie Du Preez. As expected Matfield and his troop dominated the lineouts but the Sharks can pride themselves for matching the seemingly stronger Bulls in the rucks, especially in the second half. Fans and critics have dubbed this game as the rehearsal for the final; in that case all we can say is “Advantage Sharks”.
The Sharks will not spend too much time celebrating their revenge over the Bulls, as they now have to shift their focus towards the Cheetahs who also took advantage of a weaker Sharks squad earlier on in the competition. The Sharks are set to get stronger with the imminent return of key players such as Beast Mtawarira, Adi Jacobs, Ryan Kankowski and Bok skipper John Smit; the rest of the teams should surely be worried.Tweet