Stefan Terblanche’s post-match speech would have given Sharks supporters the world over goosebumps. This was really a triumph against the odds, the team had finished top of the log but were still underdogs for both their home semi final and semi final. On paper the Blue Bulls and Western Province teams were stronger but the Sharks players had team spirit which was forged in the adversity earlier in the season.
Thinking back to the earlier rounds of the Super 14 where the team spirit was down, the coach was in danger of losing his job and the team had just lost 5 matches in a row. What happened next was the first turning point of the season for the Sharks. Coming up against the Highlanders in the house of pain, the Sharks dug deep and began showing the desperate team spirit which would serve them so well later to break their Super 14 2010 duck with a 30-16 win. The Sharks did not lose again until Round 12 when they came up against a Bulls side with lots of momentum at fortress Loftus. The Sharks played with spirit but did not have the game it seemed to step up to the plate and win the really difficult games.
Then came the next step up for the team when the Sharks came up against the Stormers who were pushing hard for a home semi final and the home team were generally not given much of a chance against the Stormers. What followed was another fantastic team performance where the Stormers were completely dominated upfront with the backs however not being able to convert the chances that came their way, there was still a piece missing in the Sharks puzzle.
The start of the Currie cup came and the Sharks surrendered a healthy lead against the Griquas and the critics got their knives out. The management and senior players responded well and the gameplan which would bring ultimate success was formulated. Pat Lambie was moved to inside centre and then to flyhalf as the Sharks started to find their form. The team had changed and started to dominate teams and scored more tries than any other team on their way to topping the log.
The Sharks secured top spot a week early and John Plumtree had the luxury of sending an experimental team to Newlands. The experiment did not work out so well and Province scored an alarmingly easy victory over the log leaders. Warning bells were sounded and the upshot of that result was that the Sharks were scheduled to host the defending champions the Blue Bulls in the semi final. The home team were written off, the Bulls had the finals experience and also all their vastly experienced Boks back. The underdog status seemed to fire the Sharks up and they really took the game to an almost shell-shocked Bulls team in the first half. The game changed in the second half, the Sharks had to defend, the rain came down and still the Sharks defended. An epic semi final was won and the Sharks were to host the final a fortnight later.
Their opponents in the final were Western Province who had dismissed the Cheetahs 31-7 in their semi final. WP have the game breakers “they” said, WP have the experience of playing the Super 14 final “they” said, home ground advantage doesn’t really matter in finals “they” said, the Sharks have already played their final “they” said. There was talk in the week that the Sharks were so fired up in their last practise that the coaches had to calm them down so as not to use all their energy before the big final, “they” didn’t notice that though. The Sharks started very well in the final and the two early first half tries laid the foundation for the win. The first try was a superb counterattack following a chip kick by Charl McLeod which was followed up by Lwazi Mvovo and McLeod was there to collect the pop pass from his winger and score under the posts, the second try was down to the individual brilliance of Lambie who wrong-footed the WP defense and handed off their captain and talisman Shalk Burger to dot down under the posts. Like the Bulls had done two weeks earlier WP bounced back and attacked the Sharks line and like two weeks earlier, the Sharks defense held despite wave after wave of attack from the men in blue and white. Dries Strauss was particularly destructive on defense and Willem Alberts gave the home side momentum with his monster ball carries. The win was sealed when the hero of the day, the young Pat Lambie pounced on a loose ball and nailed the Province coffin shut. Pat Lambie fell just short of Derick Hougaard’s record of 26 points in a final by scoring 25 points, the young man’s goal kicking was superb.
Stefan Terblance’s speech summed the triumph up. This was a team, and a team could beat a bunch of individuals on any given day. The “no names” had stood up and claimed the ultimate prize in South African rugby. Sharks, you have no idea how proud your fans are of you. The true epic tale was completed and I would also like to give a word of thanks to the Sharks management who turned the season around and had the courage to back the players who ended up shining and winning the Currie cup and creating an environment where the players were playing for each other.Tweet