The Sharks beat Western Province 17-12 at Newlands on Saturday to win their first Currie Cup title since 2013. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The strange run of final results involving WP and the Sharks continues. Province went into the 2010 and 2013 deciders as favourites, yet finished on the wrong side of the scoreline on both occasions. The Sharks were expected to win at Kings Park in 2012 and 2017, yet lost both championship games.
On Saturday at Newlands, it was another case of the favourites folding under pressure and underdogs defying the odds. The Sharks finished the game strongly to take the title and hand WP their first loss of the 2018 season.
WP bossed the scrum and territorial battle for much of the first half. Several lapses at the lineout and on defence prevented the hosts from taking control of the game, though.
Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi struggled to find his lineout jumpers in the early stages. Province battled to get over the gainline during this period, and the threat of Damian Willemse – shifted to No 12 to accommodate a tactical-kicking specialist in Josh Stander – was well and truly nullified.
Wilco Louw got the better of his opposite number Juan Schoeman at scrum-time. As a collective, Province bossed this set piece and forced the Sharks to operate on the back foot.
The Sharks were denied two tries from close range in the first stanza. Despite their struggles at the set piece, Sharks skipper Louis Schreuder turned down a penalty attempt from in front of the posts in favour of a scrum.
It proved a foolish decision. WP proceeded to win the engagement and force an error by Dan du Preez at the back of the scrum.
Akker van der Merwe scored after the break and Robert du Preez added the extras to propel the visitors into the lead. The Sharks nearly grabbed a second when Dan du Preez reached for the tryline in the 52nd minute.
The No 8 lost control of the ball at the crucial moment, though. The visitors had to be content with a shot at goal, and Du Preez made no mistake.
Curwin Bosch had the opportunity to kick the Sharks into an important four-point lead in the 59th minute. The long-range attempt drifted wide, much to the Newlands crowd’s delight.
Only 27,000 fans were at the 48-000 seater on Saturday. By the sound of things, the vast majority of them were willing John Dobson’s charges to succeed and Robert du Preez’s players to fall short.
The WP fans had more reasons to groan than cheer in the dying stages, though. Province coughed up the ball at crucial times, and battled to exit their own half.
They were hammered by the visitors at the breakdowns, and it was from a ruck turnover that the Sharks launched a game-defining counterattack. At first, it appeared as if reserve scrumhalf Cameron Wright had botched the scoring chance by running straight at the last defender.
The Sharks controlled possession thereafter, though, and Tyler Paul crashed over the line. Du Preez added the extras to take the visitors eight points clear with less than nine minutes on the clock.
Willemse kicked a penalty in the 75th minute to give WP some hope at the death. The Sharks showed more composure at the clock wound down. Du Preez booted the ball into the crowd after the final hooter, and the Sharks reserves ran onto the field to celebrate.
The result sees the Sharks claiming their first Currie Cup title since 2013. On that occasion, they also beat WP at Newlands to secure the trophy.
Western Province – Penalties: SP Marais (3), Damian Willemse.
Sharks – Tries: Akker van der Merwe, Tyler Paul. Conversions: Robert du Preez (2). Penalty: Du Preez.
Western Province – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 SP Marais, 10 Josh Stander, 9 Hershel Jantjies, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (c), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 JJ Engelbrecht.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Aphelele Fassi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Tyler Paul, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Jacques Vermeulen, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Leolin Zas.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images