For Sharks fans there was something wonderfully exquisite about their team’s seventh Currie Cup title triumph when they humbled mighty Western Province before their disbelieving faithful yesterday. And it was not just because it was a humiliating pounding!
Much of it was because the Sharks had not been this written off before a final since their very first win in 1990 in Pretoria, and a lot of it was about the sweet taste of revenge after Western Province had done exactly this in Durban last year, when they had won against the odds against a Sharks team that did not show the opposition enough respect.
And there was also the satisfaction of silencing a Western Cape that had been in prematurely triumphant mood ever since they beat the Sharks in the final pool game.
For the Sharks, there was indeed a satisfying smell of retribution in the stiff breeze that swept in from the Mountain, as they accounted for a home team that had been backed to win by just about everybody except the Sharks team themselves.
The Sharks have now added titles in 2008, 2010 and 2013 to their ‘90s’ wins in 1990, 1992, 1995 and 1996.
And their latest win was arguably their most complete performance in any of those finals. They came with a plan to dominate territory through an educated kicking plan and to ruthlessly take their opportunities. They played perfect finals rugby, albeit three kicks at goal went adrift, and tackled with the fortitude and courage that defines champion teams.
The vaunted Province X-factor players such as Gio Aplon and Cheslin Kolbe were tackled out of the game.
Naturally the Sharks had their heroes, notably scrumhalf Charl McLeod, who nailed two tries, and Patrick Lambie, who did to Province what his counterpart Demetri Catrakilis did in Durban last year by smacking home two crucial drop goals. And then there was young lock Pieter-Steph du Toit, who without exaggeration is being hailed as the next Frik du Preez.
And many a Sharks fan will hail Bismarck du Plessis, who did a “Dan Carter” on Catrakilis when he tackled him off the field in the second half.
When the the teams took the field, the thunderous, rapturous applause of 50 000 unashamedly biased home supporters must have had Sharks CEO John Smit wincing in envy – there were just 18 000 at the previous week’s semi-final at Kings Park – but after this famous win, Smit will hope that Durbanites will renew their support for their team at the Shark Tank. The players certainly deserve it.
A sold-out Newlands made it a fitting occasion for one of the most anticipated finals in years, and the infectious atmosphere had retiring referee Jonathan Kaplan shedding tears of emotion at the national anthem as he said goodbye to his illustrious career as South Africa’s most experienced firstclass referee.
The stifling roar of the home crowd made it imperative for the Sharks to start well and take the sting out of the cacophony, but not even the most optimistic Durbanite could have predicted 10 points in six minutes. There was a well taken penalty goal by Lambie after pressure from the kick-off, and then came a sensational intercept by McLeod of a Louis Schreuder pass on the Sharks 22, with the scrum-half galloping most of the length of the field for the score.
The impact of that start was negated soon after when the home team created the gap on the Sharks 22 for centre Damian de Allende to score.
Not long after, Lambie missed a vital penalty from close range, but he was on target five minutes later, as the game went into the second quarter, with a more difficult effort.
Catrakilis pulled back three points after Du Toit was adjudged to have high-tackled him in the Sharks 22.
Those points were dramatically negated when, from the kick-off, the Sharks won the ball and Lambie coolly slotted a 40m drop goal.
Seven minutes before halftime, Catrakilis kicked his second penalty to pull it back to 16-13 to the Sharks.
Lambie would miss two penalty attempts in the five minutes before half-time but, as the hooter sounded for the break, it was third time lucky for him and the Sharks took a six-point lead into the interval.
Province nailed the crucial first score after half-time through a Catrakilis penalty just two minutes into the half, but the ding-dong sequence continued immediately when, yet again, the receiving team lost the kick-off and the Sharks worked the possession into a penalty for Lambie to goal, and it was brought closer into his range after Province were marched back 10m for back-chat after the initial penalty.
And then came a controversial incident when Du Plessis nailed Catrakilis in his 22, and Du Toit secured possession.
The ball was sped out wide for Lwazi Mvovo to score, but the try was disallowed because the tackler was offside. But it was the end of Catrakilis’s involvement. The cool Lambie rescued some of the points lost from the disallowed try when he kicked his second drop goal, a difficult effort from 35m out.
Kurt Coleman, on for Catrakilis, brought it back to 19-25, but then came a try for McLeod that came from a perfect build-up for finals rugby – the Sharks kicked and kicked again (when they got the ball back), until they had deep territory and then left it to their big loose forwards to batter at the line, freeing the terrier-like scrum-half for an easy try.
In the dying minutes, Lambie kicked his fifth penalty for the coup de grace.
Western Province (13) 19
Sharks (19) 33
Sharks: Tries: Charl McLeod (2). Conversions: Patrick Lambie. Penalties: Lambie (5). Drop Goals: Lambie (2).
Western Province: Try: Damian de Allende. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (3), Kurt Coleman. - Sunday Tribune