Sharks seal final berth
October 16, 2010
Sharks blindside flanker Keegan Daniel is congratulated by team-mate Charl McLeod © Getty Images
The Natal Sharks ended the Blue Bulls' reign as Currie Cup holders by defeating the Pretoria outfit 16-12 in a hard-fought semi-final clash at the Kings Park stadium in Durban on Saturday afternoon.
The Sharks dominated the first half but only managed one try, through Keegan Daniel, and allowed the Bulls to stay in contention courtesy of the boot of fly-half Morne Steyn. However, the Sharks, who finished the regular season on top of the table, survived a nervy fourth quarter to seal their place in this year's final.
The game in Durban was very nearly postponed after a swarm of bees decided to take up residence on the King's Park pitch just before kick-off. The ground staff made a failed attempt to displace the bees with fire extinguishers before eventually managing to move the unwanted, non-paying guests on with the aid of some smoke bombs.
When the game finally got underway, almost 45 minutes after its scheduled kick-off, the Sharks quickly set about making up for lost time, racking up a try inside three minutes of play, blindside flanker Daniel taking an inside pass from scrum-half Charl McLeod before bounding through to score unopposed after incessant pressure from the hosts had stretched the Bulls defence to breaking point.
The Sharks continued to dominate thereafter but failed to turn their superiority into points, with No.10 Patrick Lambie the most obvious culprit in that regard after failing to land a very kickable penalty on 12 minutes. No doubt buoyed by that let-off, the Bulls began to gain a foothold in the game and reduced their arrears midway through the first half when Steyn landed a penalty after the visitors' first real foray into their opponents' 22.
Lambie replied in kind on the half hour, making amends for his earlier miss, but Steyn slotted over his second penalty of the half on 35 minutes to leave just four points between the sides at the break, which was a very palatable scoreline for the Bulls given how little ball they had seen in the opening period.
Of course, a massive improvement was required if they were going to punish their hosts for their profligacy and turn the game around in the second half. However, while they tried admirably to raise their game, they did so in vain. The Sharks continued to have the better of things and restored their seven-point advantage when Lambie landed an easy penalty from right in front of the posts just three minutes into the second half.
Steyn then squandered a chance to post an immediate riposte, his strike on goal coming back off the right-hand upright, but the Springbok atoned for his inaccuracy by stroking over a far more difficult kick in the 49th minute to keep the Bulls in touch.
The reigning champions were still struggling to carve out any try-scoring opportunities, though, and Lambie had not gone away either. Indeed, the fly-half made it a seven-point game once more when he split the sticks with another penalty attempt five minutes later.
The Bulls, desperate to hold on to their Currie Cup crown, kept battling, with Steyn on hand once more on 62 minutes to draw his side to within a try of the lead. However, despite their best efforts, they could not manufacture one and the Sharks, one year on from their semi-final heartbreak in Durban at the hands of the Cheetahs, held firm to secure a place in this season's decider.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September