An elated and proud Sharks captain Johann Muller admitted on Saturday night that some horrible nightmare visions went through his mind towards the end of his team’s 14-9 win over the Vodacom Blue Bulls in the Absa Currie Cup final in Durban.
Gavin Rich writes for SuperRugby that Muller was part of the Sharks team that lost to a late Bryan Habana try in last year’s Vodacom Super 14 final at the same Absa Stadium venue. On that occasion, a number of mistakes were made, among them a few tactical substitutions that went awry, and Frans Steyn fluffed the conversion of Albert van den Berg’s try that would have given the Sharks an eight point cushion and made it safe with two minutes to go.
With the same amount of time remaining in Saturday’s domestic final, the Sharks had another chance to make it safe as a penalty was awarded in a kickable position.
The Sharks were leading by five points, so a successful kick would have made it an eight point margin, and the Sharks would be safe.
Last May Steyn stepped up confidently to take the kick and almost took the ball out of the grasp of Butch James.
This time it was the reliable Rory Kockott who was heading towards the ball to take the responsibility for the clinching kick, but again Steyn’s confidence won the day. Again, to the Sharks’ frustration, he missed it, and with the hooter about to sound, the Bulls found themselves in possession near their own goalline.
It was precisely the same position they were in at the same stage last year, and then came a Bulls turn-over at a scrum after the hooter to prolong the Sharks’ agony and that of a jittery crowd that had been nervously counting down the clock.
“I always thought we were in control of that game on the field, but I would be lying if I told you that visions of last year’s game did not go through my mind when Frans missed that kick,” said Muller.
“And it happened again when we got turned over at that scrum and the Bulls found themselves putting the ball in for the last move of the game needing a try to win it. It was a nervous moment, but I kept telling myself that the same thing couldn’t possibly happen twice.”
It didn’t, and it was thanks to a great Sharks comeback in the scrum, one of their strongpoints for most of the match, that the Bulls were denied their opportunity to put Habana in for a repeat of 2007.
“We scrummed very well today, in fact our entire pack played really well. If we can keep this pack together I think this team can go places. We have a great coach in John Plumtree and what he has done in a very short space of time is unbelieveable.”
Muller, like his management, felt that the Currie Cup win was important in that it got the monkey off the Sharks’ backs after 12 years of coming so near yet so far by losing at the final hurdle in the two major competitions. And the several important big points that they played so well will stand them in good stead in future deciding games.
One of those was the Frederic Michalak ankle tap that prevented what had looked an almost certain Habana intercept try in the 20th minute.
“I don’t think there would have been many people in the stadium that would not have resigned themselves to a Bulls try when Habana intercepted, we know how quick he is and what a great finisher he is,” said Plumtree.
Indeed, the Michalak intercept and Steyn’s recovery from the mistake that led to the intercept in coming back to make the tackle was an indication to the Sharks management that their strong emphasis on team spirit and playing for one another had paid off.
“I think it is fair to say that many teams would just have stopped once they knew Bryan had intercepted, they would have conceded the try, but Freddy’s ankle tap showed the commitment there was to the team goal,” said assistant coach Grant Bashford.Tweet