Sharks win dance of the desperates
April 21, 2018

Prop Thomas du Toit scored a late try that clinched the Cell C Sharks a 24-17 win over the DHL Stormers in a scrappy match at Kings Park that could probably best be remembered as a dance of the desperates.

First, let it be said that if the first sign of madness is persisting in doing the same things over and over again and not learning from your mistakes, then the Sharks are at least not afflicted with madness. They did show they learnt something from what the Bulls taught them in their home defeat last weekend.

Their tactics were far better than seven days ago, they varied their game more by employing the kick as a means of attack and they also won the kicking (territory) game hands down. The success of their kick chase in the first half made the Stormers’ decision to start with Dillyn Leyds at fullback rather than SP Marais look highly questionable.

The Stormers back three struggled with the Sharks’ aerial bombardment. If you are going to base a lot around counter-attack then you go for Leyds, but the Stormers in the first half never looked like they wanted to counter-attack until two minutes before the break.

That was when Raymond Rhule scored a try that effectively started with Sharks scrumhalf Cameron Wright passing the ball to Stormers lock Chris van Zyl when he was tackled after a strong break deep inside Stormers territory. The converted 38th minute try gave the Stormers a 7-3 halftime lead after an opening 40 minutes when they came second both in the battle for territory and possession.

Both teams had spoken in the week about the need to make a good start. Watching the early stages of the game unfold, it was possible to find a translation for that. It was less about avoiding making a bad start, which the Sharks did last week and the Stormers in their previous two games, than about making a good start.

Certainly given how they dominated the early parts of the game, the Sharks would not have been happy that they took 18 minutes to point points on the board through a Robert du Preez penalty. By contrast, the Stormers would have felt they were well in it. Du Preez missed an earlier kick, and Curwin Bosch a later one, and Du Preez’s one success remained the only points of the half for a Sharks team that laid the foundation for their hard fought win by fronting in the forward battle.

The memory of the way the Sharks pack capitulated to the Western Province eight in last year’s Currie Cup final still lingers in Durban, and while it wouldn’t be correct to say that the Sharks big men dominated the Stormers, they at least ensured that there wasn’t a repeat of last October. They were perhaps helped by referee Glen Jackson’s rather dubious scrum interpretations at times, and the Stormers were unlucky not to be awarded a scrum penalty immediately before Stormers scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage was yellow carded for a deliberate tap down.

The Stormers were ahead at that point and were just starting to gain some momentum and it was in the period that Duvenage was off that the flow of the game changed in favour of the Sharks. However, on balance, even the Stormers coaches would probably agree that the hosts just about deserved to win because of the success they enjoyed with their kicking game.

The Stormers had minimal opportunity to attack from good positions in the first half, with their first visit into the Sharks 22 coming in the 23rd minute. The Sharks could thank scrumhalf Cameron Wright for their territorial ascendancy. Most of his box kicks and hoists were on the tickey, and he was assisted by some excellent chasing from the likes of Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi.

It looked like a game between two teams who were more afraid of losing than hungry to win, which is understandable, for the two coastal sides are lagging in the South African conference and were both coming off big defeats. However, any negativity towards their safety first tactics (as I say, the Leyds fullback selection made no sense if the Stormers were going to play like that) should be tempered with the recognition that both defensive systems made a massive step up from their previous games.

This was a game where both teams injected impressive linespeed into their defence, particularly in the first half, when it was almost over-bearing and contributed to the scrappy and error-ridden opening 40 almost as much as the usual slippery ball that is a perennial bugbear on a humid Durban day.

The match did improve in the second half, with the Sharks regaining the lead three minutes after the restart with a try that showed off the deft skills of the often under-utilised Lukhanyo Am. The outside centre put the stab kick through that Mapimpi chased down before transferring in for Am to score.

Am nearly produced something similar later in the half, but Nkosi was correctly adjudged to have lost the ball forward as he went over in the right corner. The Stormers meanwhile had fought back with another good counter-attack try, which was started by an interception from Craig Barry and involved an excellent chase of his kick-ahead by Damian Willemse before the ball was spun to the left for hooker Ramone Samuels to score in the left corner.

Apart from a poor restart when the pressure was on, Willemse turned in a strong performance, with some big tackles in his channel, but this was not a game where there was much flash, though there were little bits of brilliance, such as the aforementioned interventions from Am and a brilliant little backflip pass from Jean-Luc du Preez in the move that led to Nkosi’s disallowed try.

Nizaam Carr made a difference when he came on for the Stormers, and JC Janse van Rensburg reminded us that he played an under-valued role in last year’s win for WP in the Currie Cup final, but the yellow card to Duvenage negated the advantage the Stormers might have enjoyed when their bench men came on.

They were challenging strongly at the death, but in the end it was only for one point – the difference between a loss and a draw is only one – as the Sharks had done enough not to lose the game. Which is probably the best way of summing up the night.


Cell C Sharks 24

Tries: Lukhanyo Am, Jean-Luc du Preez and Thomas du Toit

Conversions: Robert du Preez 3

Penalty: Robert du Preez

DHL Stormers 17

Tries: Raymond Rhule and Ramone Samuels

Conversions: Damian Willemse 2

Penalty: Damian Willemse

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