The Sharks dominated a pulsating Currie Cup Final at Newlands yesterday pretty much form start to finish, to run out deserved 33-19 winners over a Western Province team that stumbled at the last hurdle after an otherwise impeccable season.
With the pack in imperious form, the big names up front for the Sharks delivered a performance in black and white worthy of their big reputations – and the zeroes on their paycheques. While the likes of Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts were immense on the day, it fell to the uncapped Pieter-Steph du Toit to deliver the truly outstanding performance, the young lock turning in a career-best display that not only overshadowed the Bok veteran playing against him, but also earned him a deserved man of the match award.
The Sharks’ win was a team effort, though, based on meticulous planning and ruthless execution of the game they’ve been working on all season. The big men simply destroyed Province at the point of contact, with furious hits from the likes of Alberts, Beast Mtawarira and Frans Steyn causing huge shifts in momentum in their side’s favour. The oft-creaky set piece came right as if scripted in a fairy-tale, with du Toit, Peet Marais and Keegan Daniel poaching Province line-out ball at will and the Sharks’ Bok front row giving slightly better than they got in the infrequent scrums that the match saw.
If there was one thing that the Sharks did well – all game long – it was playing for possession and scoring the points when they had the opportunity. An early penalty to Pat Lambie was followed by a rather opportunistic intercept try to Charl McLeod all within the first few minutes. Province struck back well to get Damian de Allende over for their sole try shortly afterwards, but with the home side committing errors both in the air and on the deck – but particularly from the kick-off – the Sharks certainly didn’t want for opportunities to extend their lead. Lambie landed two further penalties and cheeky drop goal in the first half to see his side lead 19-13 at the break, although two further misses from the nuggety flyhalf saw Province trail by fewer points going into the shed than they arguably deserved to.
The second half saw the Sharks up the tempo yet further as they started to gain the scent of victory. An early penalty to Province was cancelled out and then cancelled out again as Lambie added a fourth penalty and a second drop goal; with half an hour to play, the Sharks then appeared to have the match sewn up as a great Charl McLeod breakout resulted in a try to Lwazi Mvovo in the opposite corner; however, the TMO ruled against, with a somewhat iffy offside decision against Bismarck du Plessis several phases back used as reason not to award. Crucially for the hosts, though, that same movement saw flyhlaf Demetri Catrikilis go off injured, to be replaced by the less-experienced Kurt Coleman.
The Sharks didn’t have to wait too much longer for that second try, though, with McLeod scoring a second after a magnificent, sweeping attack involving virtually the entire side. Lambie missed the conversion, but with Province now 11 points down and battling to make anything work, the writing was well on the wall. The Sharks did have the last laugh, with Lambie’s fifth penalty just before full time giving them a 14-point buffer, which they maintained until the final whistle blew.
It was perhaps fitting that it fell to stalwart Jacques Botes – such a rock for the side this season – to kick the ball into touch to signal the end of the game and the start of the wild celebrations.
Western Province – Try: Damian de Allende. Conversion: Demetri Catrkilis. Penalties: Catrkilis (2), Kurt Coleman.
Sharks – Tries: Charl McLeod (2). Conversion: Pat Lambie. Penalties: Lambie (5). Drop goals: Lambie (2).