The Sharks will host the Currie Cup Final in Durban on October 25, after the men in black and white eased past a very ordinary Lions team – winning their semifinal 29-14 on Saturday.
It must be said that the Lions were flattered by the scoreline, as they played like an animal that was a rotting carcass rather than a live animal.
Rugby 365 reports that the Sharks, clearly the hungrier of the two, had a feast in the first half and with the score at 26-7 at the break it was very obviously one-way traffic.
The Lions failed to fire a shot in anger and their two tries were very small consolation for an outclassed team that were naive in both their options and execution.
The Sharks, who laid the platform for the win by putting the Lions under pressure in the set pieces from the outset, were impressive as a unit in all aspects of the game.
The Sharks, energetic in their execution and playing with speed, faced a Lions team that looked ponderous.
Add to that the fact that Earl Rose, at fullback this week, had a repeat of the horror show when he handed the Sharks a host of points in their game a fortnight ago. He was eventually replaced early in the second half, but some would say it was 40 minutes to late – raising questions about when a coach’s loyalty becomes too costly.
For the Sharks Jean Deysel and Ryan Kankowski were brilliant on defence, Jacques Botes his busy self at the breakdown.
But the key that unlocked the game was in the No.9, No.10 and No.12 axis – Ruan Pienaar, Frederic Michalak and Francois Steyn.
It all started going awry for the Lions from the opening minutes, with a quick succession of penalties leading referee Mark Lawrence having some stern words for Lions captain Cobus Grobbelaar. Ruan Pienaar slotted one through the posts in the fifth minute and another two minutes later to give the Sharks an early lead.
The decision by Lions coach Eugene Eloff to persist with the hapless Earl Rose backfire badly in the 12th minute, when the Sharks countered from deep and Ryan Kankowski outpaced a lumbering prop and also No.8 Ernst Joubert., Rose, who was supposed to be the last line of defence made no attempt to cover or tackle and simply jogged along as Kankowski looked like a supercharged jet sprinting down the touchline unopposed. Pienaar added the conversion a 13-0 lead.
The Lions did show their attacking abilities when quick hands put wing Trompie Nontshinga into space and a clever inside kick saw Doppies la Grange touch down. The call did go to the TMO for a possible knock-on, but he had no hesitation in awarding the try.
Rose slotted the conversion and for a few brief moments the Lions looked like they were in the contest.
But from the restart the Sharks stormed upfield, with centres Francois Steyn and Adi Jacobs breaching the Lions defence to put Odwa Ndungane away. The wing off-loaded to Frenchman Freddie Michalak, who scored a great try. Pienaar added the conversion and at 20-7 the game was slipping away.
Slipping away became a no contest with two further penalties – one by Pienaar and a great long-range effort from inside the Sharks half by Steyn – saw the score race out to 26-7.
That’s how it stayed till half-time.
The Lions put up some brave resistance in the third quarter, and Eloff finally realised the error of his ways by pulling Rose off and putting Michael Killian on
However, the game had an air of inevitability about it when captain Cobus Grobbelaar left the field with a shoulder injury and Pienaar slotted a penalty soon after to take the score to 29-7 in the 62nd minute.
And when John Smit came on for Bismarck du Plessis in the 66th minute, you could see the Lions’ heads dropping – one great Springbok being replaced by and even better one. Then Deon Carstens came on fir Jannie du Plessis – moire Bok power for Bok power.
The Lions continued to plug away, but their stodgy approach was easy for the Sharks to defend against.
After the umpteenth phase Lions No.8 Ernst Joubert found his way over the line. The call went to the TMO, who was looking for a possible knock-on and when the call came back it was more disappointment for the Lions – who were forced to go back for a five-metre scrum.
The Sharks, who were now playing well within themselves, allowed the Lions to run at them. But the visitors simply could not find a way through that black line – with a combination of poor options, poor handling (both by the Lions) and solid defence holding the team in red-and-white out.
There was some reward for a bit of late honest endeavour by the Lions, when a grubber bounced awkwardly and bounced high in the air, hit the crossbar and bounced back into the hands of Lions centre Jaque Fourie – who flopped down for a consolation score.
Man of the match: You can pick any of the Sharks from their first half performance, but for his impact on defence and in the physical stakes we are going for Sharks flank Jean Deysel as our man of the match.
Moment of the match: There is no doubt that Ryan Kankowski’s 12th minute try showed the Sharks’ intent and the difference in class between the two sides. It was also a great score and a fine example of counter-attacking rugby.
Villain of the match: It may sound harsh, but we are going for Lions coach Eugene Eloff for persisting with Earl Rose – not just keeping him in this match for 50 minutes, but actually bringing him into the game. You can’t fault a coach’s loyalty, but when that loyalty is at the expense of an entire team, it has to be questioned.
For the Sharks:
Tries: Kankowski, Michalak
Cons: Pienaar 2
Pens: Pienaar 4, Steyn
For the Lions:
Tries: Le Grange, Fourie
Con: Rose, Van Schalkwyk
Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller (captain), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Albert van den Berg/Nikolai Blignaut, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Bradley Barritt, 22 Waylon Murray.
Lions: 15 Earl Rose, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Trompie Nontshinga, 10 Louis Strydom, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Justin Wheeler, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar (captain), 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Anton van Zyl, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Lawrence Sephaka, 18 Jannes Labuschagne, 19 Derick Minnie, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Michael Killian, 22 Jaco van Schalkwyk.
Referee: Mark Lawrence
Touch judges: Deon van Blommestein, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Johann Meuwesen