It was at some stage late in the first half of the Cheetahs-Sharks, probably just before half-time, that I said to my mate Gary (who sometimes posts here as Agent Orange) that I felt there really wasn’t very much to separate the two sides on the pitch. It was 9-all at that stage with neither team able to gain the upper hand.
Quite prophetically, as it turned out, he replied that Rory Kockott would prove to be the difference. How right he was. The little scrumhalf had a superb game, that is for sure. His kicking off the tee was out of the top drawer, but it was arguably his kicking out of hand that made the real difference. It was never going to be a match that produced much flowing rugby, given the conditions. The Sharks worked this one out before kick-off and executed a pragmatic game plan to suit the weather. The Cheetahs never quite caught on, insisting on playing running rugby in the rain – or at least trying to.
I spoke last week about a turning point in the Sharks campaign – about how the team showed real composure and maturity to win a game that should have been lost. This week, they took that one step further, overcoming any number of obstacles, including an abysmal away record against the Cheetahs that hasn’t seen them win in Bloemfontein (in the Currie Cup, at least) since an injury-time touchline conversion from Butch James sealed a one-point victory in the last game of the 2003 season. I’d need to check the stats, but I’d be surprised if anyone other than Stefan Terblanche has ever before played in a winning Sharks effort in Bloem in the Currie Cup.
Now let’s not take anything away from the other seniors in the team, all of whom are really standing up and putting in huge efforts. Terblanche, of course, is the flag bearer and the captaincy really seems to suit the old man and bring the best out of him. He looks to me as though he is now acutely aware that the result of the game rests on his own shoulders – he is no longer just involved, but now responsible for delivering the win. The other old(er) heads in the side, like Albert van den Berg, Jacques Botes, Odwa Ndungane and even Keegan Daniel are all playing their parts too, putting their hands up and showing the youngsters the way. I thought Daniel had a phenomenal game once he came on, made all the more impressive by the fact that the conditions really don’t suit his natural game.
Most of the plaudits must go to Kockott, though, who showed exactly what he’s capable of when he leaves the side shows behind and concentrates on the game. I wouldn’t be too surprised if his “legal counsel” had a little word with him after the hearing on Wednesday. Kockott’s focus was absolute, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, there might have been a reading of the riot act courtesy of the Sharks imposing Commercial Manager during the week.
The pick of the young guns was Lwazi Mvovo, who was industrious and involved as ever. Isn’t it great to have such a hungry young win with pace aplenty, looking for work all over the park. Wiehahn Herbst was not far behind and brought some real steel to the Sharks front row after replacing an oddly out-of-sorts Deon Carstens. Steven Sykes showed that there’s more to his game than just the physical stuff, as he stole Free State lineout ball seemingly at will, while Jean Deysel, although having by his standards a quieter game, still managed to inflict his customary share of damage at the advantage line.
So well-done, Sharks. This really was a superb performance and I can’t think when last I was this pleased about a performance that yielded no tries – in fact, not even the prospect of one. In fact, I’ve just remembered. It was when we beat the Blues 12-6 in Auckland some years ago, in similar conditions. Moment of this match, for me, had to be Monty Dumond showing oodles of BMT to convert a 50-plus metre penalty that effectively ended the game as a contest. Monty, you’re growing on me, boet. Keep it up!
Well done to the Under 21s as well, for grinding out a good win after falling badly behind in the first period. The future looks rosy indeed.Tweet