THEIR 20-year-old flyhalf, Patrick Lambie, grabbed the headlines, but the sensational Sharks — aggressive, controlled and superbly coached — scored a stunning 30-10 win over fancied Western Province at King’s Park on Saturday night to take the Currie Cup title for the second time in three years.
Lambie, who turned 20 this month, scored 25 points, and moments after the final whistle heard that he was to become Michaelhouse’s first rugby Springbok, with his inclusion in the 30-man squad for the grand slam tour of the UK.
Both coach John Plumtree and captain Stefan Terblanche were warm in their praise of Lambie, but both emphasised that the victory was a triumph of teamwork over the individual talents of the panicky, disjointed, Western Province.
The Sharks had rushed to a 20-3 lead after just 17 minutes and Province never really recovered.
Willem de Waal and Lambie traded early penalties, but the Sharks’ excellent, sniping scrumhalf Charl McLeod, on turnover ball deep in his own half, fashioned the opening try.
His long kick into open space was chased by wing Lwazi Mvovo, who beat Province hooker Deon Fourie to the ball and then made the clever off-load to McLeod to score.
Six minutes later, and after a strong build-up, Lambie attacked the advantage line, brushed off big lock Adriaan Fondse, handed off Bok flank Schalk Burger, and scored under the posts.
His two conversions and two penalties had the Sharks comfortably clear at 23-3 after 26 minutes.
A brief Province revival in the closing minutes of the half, and a try for Burger after a strong lineout drive (26-10), suggested the contest was far from over and the Sharks were under the cosh for long periods in the second half.
Curiously, the try conceded on half-time was probably a blessing for the Sharks because it seduced Province into thinking that scoring tries off the lineout was the way forward.
Province started the second half strongly and applied all the pressure as the Sharks conceded a rash of penalties.
Five were in comfortable kicking range for De Waal, but captain Burger insisted on De Waal kicking to touch to set up lineout drives.
However, the Sharks were ready and their aggressive defence and organisation at the lineout kept a fumbling Province out for the next half-hour.
Finally, the Sharks came away from their half and they spent the last 10 minutes on attack.
Province fumbled while attempting to run from their own line, and Lambie was quickly over for his second try (30-10) to take his team out of sight and launch the Sharks’ celebrations three minutes from the final whistle.
It was a crushing, painful and unexpected defeat for Province and added salt to the wounds left by their loss to the Bulls in the Super 14 final back in May.
This time Burger did not blame referee Craig Joubert for his team’s loss and was quick to admit that “we were well beaten by a better team”.
He said that the Sharks had drawn on the “great atmosphere” provided by the 53 000-strong crowd.
“We were blitzed from the start and that forced us to chase the game. And then we made far too many mistakes on attack and that gave the momentum back to the Sharks. But the Sharks were outstanding and all credit to them.”
He admitted that, in hindsight, he was wrong to have not had De Waal aim the many second-half penalties at goal.
“That choice is always difficult, but it just seemed right on the field. We were chasing the game, but we knew that a try would get us right back into the game [at 23-17].
“But the Sharks defended strongly and kept us out and so now, in retrospect, our tactics were wrong.”
Plumtree said the final was similar in ways to the semi-final win over the Blue Bulls a fortnight ago.
“Again we were forced to defend for long periods. I was disappointed that we were not able to attack more in the second half and build on that first-half lead. Instead, we faded slightly, made errors and our discipline suffered. But, just like against the Bulls, we defended strongly and the effort of all the guys was special. I was very proud of them.”
Certainly the defence of the Sharks, the massive hits of flank Willem Alberts, the superb tackling of centre Andries Strauss and Lambie, and the scrambling cover from all the players were astonishing.
Pressured Province, caught in the headlights, expressed themselves badly, as they did in their two previous visits to King’s Park this year.
Bok centre Jean de Villiers was never a force, Bryan Habana threatened briefly, but was quickly covered, and Gio Aplon was tightly marked.
The real pressure was exerted at the breakdown where the Sharks, tearing into their tackles and contesting on the ground, were consistently on the front foot.
Alberts was an immense force.
Keegan Daniel was busy and productive and the Sharks’ tight forwards were secure in the set pieces while they tackled and bashed away at the breakdowns where Bismarck du Plessis was superb.
It was an emphatic win, by three tries to one, and a deserved one — the Sharks’ sixth in the 20 years since 1990. And, as a delighted Plumtree said later, the building blocks are in place for the future.
Sharks: Tries: Charl McLeod, Patrick Lambie (2). Conversions: Lambie (3). Penalties: Lambie (3).
Western Province: Try: Schalk Burger. Conversion: Willem de Waal. Penalty: De Waal.