John Plumtree’s masterful Currie Cup Class of 2010 shocked many a pundit last night as they romped to an emphatic 30 points to 10 win over Western Province in the Currie Cup Final. Plumtree’s men outscored their Cape rivals by three tries to one, with heroic 20-year-old flyhalf Patrick Lambie scoring all but 5 of his side’s points.
The game was billed as too close to call, with scribes and knowledgeable rugby men variously giving it to Province, on the basis if their individual superiority, or the Sharks, based on home-ground advantage and better cohesion as a team. Those backing the latter outcome proved to be far more correct than they could have imagined, with the Sharks producing a vintage display of “suffocation rugby” that was, if possible, even better than the performance dished out to beat the Blue Bulls in the rain two weeks ago. While the Sharks ere still clearly carrying a few scars from that game – which could be seen in a quieter-than-normal first half from Willem Alberts as well as a few slipped first-up tackles – it was evident from very early on in this encounter that they simply wanted the win far more than their hyped-up adversaries did.
Province started like a house on fire – sweeping upfield and pressurising the Sharks into a penalty within the opening minutes, which Willem de Waal duly converted. The Sharks initially looked a little jittery and it was Province who held the upper hand at the breakdown for fully 5 minutes at the start. After Pat Lambie had equalised the score with a penalty of his own, Province broke through some lacklustre tackling and burst into Sharks territory, only to be robbed of possession by a scintillating Bismarck du Plessis turnover in his side’s 22. The ball was spun out to Charl McLeod, who chipped expertly for Lwazi Movvo to chase up the left flank. The burly winger was well stopped by Province hooker Deon Fourie a few short metres out, but the Sharks scrumhalf was on hand to collect the pop and finish the job he had stared. It was just rewards for McLeod, a player who has been instrumental to the Sharks’ success in 2010 and who gave Province hassles all of the first half, before being replaced. Lambie nailed the conversion and despite only being 7 points behind, Province inexplicably stopped playing the game for the next 20 minutes and allowed the Sharks to build up a lead that they were never able to reel in.
It started with Pat Lambie scoring the try of the match, scampering through two half-hearted tackle attempts from 25 metres out, before knocking Schalk Burger to the ground with a massive hand-off and sauntering over next to the uprights. His conversion moved the score out to 17-3, before two quick penalties gave the Sharks a massive 23-3 lead heading into the last quarter of an hour of the first half. It was this 20-minute period that saw the Sharks enjoy total dominance over their opponents in every facet of the game and had Lambie managed to nail either of the successive 50-metre-plus attempts he had before half-time (both came agonisingly close), Province would have had no hope at all in the second half. As it was, they were incredibly fortunate that Francois Louw wasn’t yellow carded for repeated tackle infringements.
As all good dramas do, this one had a twist, though and for Province, the ten minutes leading up to half time proved fruitful, as they finally managed to get their hands on the ball and build some momentum. A good drive from a lineout 5 metres out saw Schalk Burger go over for a try, which was duly converted by de Waal to bring them within 13 points going into half time. There were some worried faces in the Sharks camp, since the momentum seemed to have inexorably shifted and the faithful knew that a team containing the likes of Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Gio Aplon can erase a two-try deficit within a matter of minutes.
It was, however, not to be, as the Sharks’ resolute defence dominated a second half in which Province emerged the clear victors in terms of possession and territory. Some improved play amongst the forwards, coupled with a breakdown in the Sharks discipline, saw the home side pinned in their 22 for large periods of the second half as referee Craig Joubert repeatedly penalised the Sharks for infringements at the tackle. Burger, inexplicably, caught the same disease that had affected Victor Matfield during the semi-final and instead of instructing his metronomic flyhalf to chip away at the lead, repeatedly opted to kick for the corner, on a day when his own lineout was not on song. Further to that, the Sharks, after being caught out by the Province rolling maul once in the first half, were determined not to succumb again and it is frankly baffling that the Province captain – a 60-test Bok veteran – couldn’t work out that his Plan A had failed and adopt a different approach. That said, Province were unable to get their ball-in-hand game working on the day either, with uncharacteristic knock-ons and breakdown turnovers the order of the day for large portions of their evening.
It was the Sharks who had the last laugh, however, as they burst out of their own territory with 10 minutes to go, sensing that they had the game won. A period of unrelenting pressure on the Province goal line saw Lambie eventually burst through for his second, after he pounced on a ball that squirted out of the side of a ruck. His personal haul of 25 points saw the young flyhalf awarded man of the match, but the award could easily have gone to Andries Strauss or Bismarck du Plessis, both of whom were utterly superb on the day.
At the end of the day – and the season – it was yet another sterling team performance that pulled this one off for the Sharks and Stefan Terblanche, speaking through the tears as he held the golden cup aloft, could not have summed it up better. “If you look across there,” he said, pointing to his fellow warriors, “you will see a TEAM”,
Sharks (30). Tries by Charl McLeod and Pat Lambie(2). 3 conversions and 3 penalties by Lambie.
WP (10): Try by Schalk Burger. 1 conversion and 1 penalty by Willem de Waal.