Durban – It seemed like the end of the world for the Sharks on Saturday night when they surrendered the chance to host a Currie Cup final in their loss to Western Province, but coach Brad Macleod-Henderson was quick to point out that all was not lost.
“We might have lost out on the chance to host a final – unless the Lions pull off a miracle at Newlands – but the mood in the change room was one of defiance, along with the disappointment. This was not the final. We can still win the Currie Cup. It just might have to be away from home,” he said.
Still, there was a heck of a lot at stake. Millions of rand were potentially lost for the Sharks and KwaZulu-Natal in general now that the final is almost certain to be in Cape Town, and the Sharks were kicking themselves after they won many of the battles in the rain, but conspired to lose the war.
Province coach Allistair Coetzee was gracious enough to admit his team was “lucky”, but fortune had nothing to do with the efficient manner in which his team took almost every chance they had to score while the Sharks squandered opportunity after opportunity.
“We’re just pleased we got over the line to get the result,” a relieved Coetzee said.
“Our character on defence got us through. All credit to a good team culture, a fantastic management team and the players.
“Finishing top of the log says a lot about this team’s spirit. We badly wanted to finish the competition unbeaten, and we’ve done that, despite the Sharks throwing everything at us.”
Macleod-Henderson said: “We let the win slip through our fingers. We created the chances but did not take them. We can’t blame the weather, it was the same for both sides. In the second half we played for territory nicely and played pretty much most of the game in their half, but there were a few opportunities left on the table that cost us dearly.”
There were a few uncharacteristic misses at goal by Patrick Lambie, but it is tough to blame a youngster who would have been rusty after spending so much time on the bench with the Boks.
Otherwise Lambie played exceptionally when he came on after half time.
His kicking out of hand was superb, and confirmed that there is much more to his game than his typical ball-in-hand approach.
“I thought Fred Zeilinga played nicely in the first half, and then Pat came on and showed what a quality flyhalf he is,” he said. ‘
“We’re fortunate to have two young players of their calibre. I think you will see Pat starting against the Cheetahs.
“We’re looking forward to this semi-final and potentially playing Province again – in the final,” the coach said.
“It is all to play for this Saturday against a team we recognise as being extremely dangerous, and we’re looking forward to dealing with that. We’re not down in the dumps. We lost, and we are hurting, but the competition is far from over.”
The fact remains that the Sharks are two wins from the title, and they are capable of doing it if they can tighten up on their error count.
Macleod-Henderson said the Sharks were fully aware that the Cheetahs would back themselves to beat the Sharks at Kings Park. They have done it before in similar circumstances.
“They have some big boys up front who give them momentum in their ball-carries. They have some exciting backs, too, so we’ll need to improve if we are to beat them,” Macleod-Henderson said.