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Sharks blow it again


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Cheetahs, Currie Cup, Original Content, Sharks on 10 Oct 2015 at 15:48
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In a frankly amazing capitulation, the Sharks have squandered a 14-point lead to draw 34-all with the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup, in the process missing out on a semi-final spot.

In a dramatic contest, it was the home side that looked better in the early exchanges. On a day when a swirling wind made goal kicking nigh on impossible, Joe Pietersen stroked an easy one to give the Sharks a 3-point lead (and then missed a second), before several indiscretions in their red zone handed opportunities back to the Cheetahs – Sias Ebersohn missing both attempts. With the Sharks’ insistence on kicking hard-won ball down the throat of Cheetahs fullback Clayton Blommetjies, the young 15 provided a counter-attacking masterclass as he found the gaps and set up his fellow backs with good possession and territory. The Sharks’ poor defence – a hallmark of their season – again pitched in to ensure that each new foray resulted in acres of territorial gain for the hosts and had their hands been better on the day, they could well have been out of sight by half time.

Rayno Benjamin scored the first try 14 minutes in, with Ebersohn finally finding his radar to hand the Cheetahs a 7-3 lead. A brilliant score, somewhat against the run of play, brought the Sharks back into the contest; a lineout drive in the Cheetahs half saw prop Gerhard Engelbrecht burst free through the middle, before feeding charging Franco Marais down the left-hand touchline. Marais made it most of the way himself before finding Etienne Oosthuizen with a pinpont inside pass. Such was the quality of this brief stanza of play that it again highlighted just how frustratingly mediocre the Sharks had been up to that point. Pietersen’s missed conversion saw the visitors ahead just 8-7 after the first quarter.

The Sharks reverted to type, though, handing Ebersohn another opportunity for points shortly afterwards (which he missed) before yet more atrocious defence saw Boom Prinsloo score the hosts’ second. Ebersohn added the conversion, then missed another penalty. Another impressive individual effort from Andre Esterhuizen (dislodging a ball behind a Cheetahs ruck with a great tackle) created a gap for quick-silver Cobus Reinach to add five more, with Ebersohn finally nailing a penalty (his first in five attempts) to give his side a 17-13 lead at the break. Amazingly, after missing roughly one in four tackles and playing tactically moronic rugby, the Sharks were will in the contest with only 40 to play.

What followed was an infuriating half hour of rugby – infuriating, in the sense that it showed us just how good this Sharks team can be when they put their minds to it. With the line out proving a reliable platform off which to attack (why did they not do this more?), it was this very phase that saw Paul Jordaan score after a lovely half break from Pietersen two minutes into the second period. Now leading 18-17, the Sharks again went to sleep, poor discipline handing Ebersohn the opportunities he needed to reclaim the lead via a penalty. The Sharks started to take control at this point, though, finally working out that lineout drives were the key to success. Pietersen added a further penalty and Cheetahs prop Luan de Bruin was sin-binned for a tackle infringement, setting thing up nicely for a dominant finish. When Odwa Ndungane and Garth April combined down the right hand touchline for a bonus-point try to the fullback, it appeared the side had done enough, holding a 31-20 lead after 65 minutes. A further penalty established a 14-point cushion with ten minutes to play.

It was at this crucial 70th-minute point that the Sharks mentally cracked open the champagne, their “fighting chance” evaporating in the rarified Bloemfontein air as the Cheetahs struck back with two quick tries to level the scores and steal fourth place back. First, the Sharks paid the price for aimless attacking play in the opposition 22. Seemingly content to bash up through multiple phases without any finishing strategy, a penalty was duly conceded for holding on. A quick tap from the Cheetahs won acres of ground, with good hands doing the rest to set up Benjamin for his second. Replacement flank Gerhard Olivier scored the next one off a lineout drive on the fulltime whistle.

Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Rayno Benjamin (2), Boom Prinsloo, Gerhard Olivier. Conversions: Sias Ebersohn (2), Neil Marais (2). Penalties: Ebersohn.(2)
Sharks – Tries: Etienne Oosthuizen, Cobus Reinach, Paul Jordaan, Garth April. Conversions: Pietersen, Penalties: Pietersen (4).



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