Sharks upset Stormers to book final berth
July 28, 2012
The Sharks' Louis Ludik slides in to score his side's first try at Newlands
© Getty Images
The Sharks booked a Super Rugby final date with the Chiefs in Hamilton next weekend with a stunning 26-19 victory over the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday.
Super Rugby Finals Series
The visitors shrugged off the demands of a gruelling travel schedule, that had seen them travel to Brisbane for last weekend's qualifier victory over the Reds, to upset the table-topping Stormers who failed to match the intensity and creativity of their South African rivals. The Sharks' pack laid the foundation for a well-deserved victory with fly-half Frederic Michalak able to dominate the contest on his way to 16 points. His influence was also evident in his side's two tries that were scored by winger Louis Ludik and outstanding centre JP Pietersen.
The Stormers threatened to stage a comeback against a tiring Sharks side in an intense second half with winger Gio Aplon skipping over for a try but they were unable to overhaul a determined Sharks side with the South African Conference title they had already claimed unlikely to be much comfort.
A huge hit from Stormers lock Eben Etsebeth on Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis lit up the opening period but his side were largely on the receiving end during a frenetic opening. A desperate tackle from Stormers centre Jean de Villiers denied Sharks winger Lwazi Mvovo a try while Michalak constantly kept the hosts guessing with ball in hand.
Back came the top seeds with winger Bryan Habana and then De Villiers going close on the half hour with the Sharks equally committed in defence with lock Willem Alberts slamming the door shut with a try-saving tackle of his own.
The Sharks took a firm grip on the match before the break with the opening try of the game. The Stormers' defence failed to lay claim to a testing up and under from Sharks fullback Riaan Viljoen and Ludik pounced superbly on the loose ball before stepping inside two tackles on his way to the line.
Michalak's conversion helped edge the Sharks into a 13-6 lead at the break and he extended their advantage early in the second half before playing a leading role in Pietersen's try. The in-form Springboks international had too much power and pace to cross just short of the hour mark and seemingly put the game beyond the Stormers.
Belatedly the Stormers found some rhythm to compliment fly-half Peter Grant's boot with De Villiers putting Aplon away for a crowd-pleasing score. They looked increasingly dangerous as the game entered the closing stages with Grant bringing his side to within striking range only for Michalak to land his second drop goal and give the Sharks some priceless breathing room.
The Stormers launched one final attack in the hope of notching the converted score that would take the game into extra time but the Sharks raised their game once more to round out the win and book another flight - this time to New Zealand to tackle the Chiefs in the title decider.
"The boys put their bodies on the line and it was tough coming to Newlands having spent last week in Australia," said Sharks captain Keegan Daniel. "But the boys showed resilience". The front row and the tight five really put their hands up."
Stormers skipper De Villiers was understandably to see his side fail to reach their first Super Rugby final. "It is going to take a while to get over this one," he said. "I have to be honest with you. I'm starting to doubt myself and doubt my captaincy.
"When you've been in this situation so many times you starting looking deep for what the real issue is. I ask myself could we have prepared better? No. Did we have the right attitude on the field? Yes.
"The commitment was there. It probably came down to not using those opportunities that we did create. We went through some very dark places this season and came out on top and for that I'm very proud to be part of this team. It's just a pity about tonight."
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