The scoreboard read 29-14 – the Sharks managed to gun down the Lions with a hitman’s precision. By the time the Lions realized what was happening, they were on the ground with fatal wounds. Okay, enough with my Tarantinoism, but there was something about the Sharks’ overall game against the Lions that brought much needed relief and a confidence boost ahead of the all-important game against the Bulls.
Notable performances by the likes of Kankowski, Terblanche, Deysel, Pienaar and the omnipresent Beast served as pillars to support the awesome team display. The Sharks had a plan and they made it work beautifully. Even when the Lions tried to throw everything including the kitchen sink- they were successfully thwarted by the strong black and white defence, and were lucky to make it to the double digits in the dying seconds of the match.
Captain Johan Muller punched the air as he led the team during the lap of honour in front of thousands of cheering fans. As much as that moment brought goosebumps to many, including yours truly, you could sense that a lot of emotions were reserved for the big one. No offence to the Lions, but Earl is no Zane, Trompie is no Bryan and Franco is no Matfield.
The match against the Bulls will surely be a nerve-wrecker, as most finals are, but if the Sharks can keep their heads cool they should be the ones smiling at the end of the 80 minutes and whatever extra time they have to play. Players like Morne Steyn, Fourie Du Preez and Tiger Mangweni will probably go all out to right the wrongs of the previous meeting at the Shark-Tank, with the centre pairing of Olivier and Delport looking to carry on from where they left off . They will, however, have to be prepared for the counter-resistance in the form of Frans Steyn, Fred Michalak and Adi Jacobs.
As much as the Bulls want this cup in their cabinet, the undebatable fact is that the stakes are much higher for the Sharks. The men from the Durban let the Bulls fly back to Tshwane with the Super 14 trophy last year, this time they have vowed to keep the silverware in Durban, and start a new chapter of righting wrongs that span over a decade.
From a Sharks’ perspective, this edition of the Currie Cup has been a true test of strength, both physical and mental. Apart from the players who were on Bok duty, the Sharks’ squad was further weakened when other key players sustained long term injuries. The Sharks fought hard, to secure back-to-back victories during these tough times, thanks to impressive performances by the future stars like Jordaan, Swanepoel and Ndlovu. The job was far from being done though, and Coach Plumtree’s approach to carefully blend in the players returning from national duty ensured that the squad was strengthened without compromising continuity.
The Sharks have done what was expected of them so far, they have delivered the home final. It feels like dejavu but the only thing standing between them and victory is the Blue Bulls. Everything that happened in the past, including the recent past, will have to be disregarded now as both teams are strong in various departments. Kirchner, Steyn and even Du Preez will try to keep the Sharks pinned in their half, whilst Matfield will be hoping to capitalize from the lineouts. The Sharks will have plenty of answers of their own though, the biggest weapon in their arsenal being the seven men on the bench. Irrespective of how Plum decides to construct the team, the Sharks will have enough firepower on the bench to change the complexion of the game in the second half to their advantage.
The buzz for the final has peaked so much here in Durban you’d swear it was happening this weekend. The boys look ready, I’m ready, and we’re all ready for the “Farm Animals” and the Piet Pienaar’s to bring it on. The next ten days will definitely feel like eternity. At the risk of sounding like the one-eyed Sharks supporter that I am, I will go ahead and say that the Sharks have played the best rugby compared to any other team in the country this year, in all competitions. If there’s any justice in the world, the 2008 Currie Cup will stay where it belongs, SHARKSWORLD!Tweet