Battered Sharks return with the spoils
IT WASN’T pretty but the outcome of the Battle of Bloemfontein was a handsome one for a Sharks team that returned home yesterday with four priceless Super Rugby points in the bag, no injuries from a very tough encounter and just one win away from qualifying for the play-offs.
The way the overall log is shaping up, if the Sharks beat the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday they should be safe and could afford to drop their last match, against the Bulls in Pretoria.
But it was hardly looking rosy for the Durbanites in the first half at the Free State Stadium when they struggled behind the gain line.
“There were words said at half-time, sure, but Smitty was the aggressive one and I was the good cop for a change,” smiled coach John Plumtree.
“And yes, the second half was much better than the first as we upped our intensity and played more intelligently. In the first half we played too much in our own half and did not control possession, and when they turned us over we were often close to our line. We have to look at that.”
Plumtree applauded the courageous effort of his players on defence, especially in looking after the big Cheetahs ball carriers, but his opposite number, Naka Drotske, reckons the Sharks were over-zealous in the process.
The none-too-amused coach said: “I wasn’t happy with at least four off-the-ball incidents. Take Ashley Johnson for example, after he passed the ball he was hit with shoulder charges on a few occasions. It is unacceptable that three officials could not pick that up, whereas (Cheetahs wing) Ryno Benjamin a few weeks ago was suspended for an alleged head-butt (on the Rebels’ Stirling Mortlock) for which there was no video evidence.”
Drotske then singled out an alleged offence by Stefan Terblanche as being a turning point in the match.
“We were in front of their poles on attack when Stefan, who was standing next to the loose scrum, smacked the ball down with us having a four on three advantage out wide.
“It would have been a definite try, but all we got was a scrum. It was cynical and a yellow card, so luck was not on our side and nor were the decisions.”
But despite his salvo at the Sharks, Drotske said they could be a surprise package if they indeed made it to the play-offs.
“The way the Sharks play, that very physical approach, suits knock-out rugby. They will have a good chance of advancing because their games suit pressure rugby.
“And they have the players to beat any team on any given day,” the former Springbok hooker said.