Sharks and Bulls see final's chances take different hits

Getty Images,     07 Jul 2014     Getty Images

Only once, the Crusaders in 1999, has a Super Rugby champion come from outside the top two finishing teams in the regular season.

No less than 12 of the 18 winners have been the number one qualifier.

The Sharks will finish third if they lose to the Stormers next week, ensuring they will have to travel even if they win in the opening week of the finals.

Their 27-20 loss to the Cheetahs was their second in a row, and fourth defeat in seven matches.

Meanwhile the late surging Stormers ensured that the Bulls, who became the sixth team to have their chances completely erased, were held scoreless for the first time since April 2011 with a 16-0 defeat in Cape Town.

The Sharks chased the draw at the death, but they were unable to claw their way back.

They say no-one does any other team any favours, and despite Cheetahs’ captain Adriaan Strauss wishing the Sharks everything of the best after the match – “They carry the South African hopes in this competition” – it was clear that there was no love lost in wanting to win this game, despite the repercussions for the visitors.

The Cheetahs started off with fire in the belly, looking to prove that their log position going into this game (last) was not an accurate reflection of their ability and they had a 10 point lead before 10 minutes of play was over. An early penalty and then a 40m driving maul resulted in a good try which Goosen converted saw them take control on the scoreboard.

It wasn’t quite what the Sharks might have planned for, given their own success this season and the potential rewards that lie ahead, but they showed some good touches on attack and excellent continuity in ball possession.

They did eventually break the shackles and struck back, Tim Swiel kicking a penalty and then converting a wonderful individual effort from Cobus Reinach which saw him bob, weave and sprint his way to the tryline from his side of the halfway line, showing his x-factor ability and pulling his team right back into the game.

After 25 minutes of play, Tim Swiel’s second penalty took his team into the lead for the first time in the game, but a succession of pick and drives saw Cheetahs’ eighthman Philip van der Walt round off the advantage and score his team’s second try, the conversion taking them into the lead again.

The high-pace game continued until the half-time whistle as the Sharks sensed another score and played some enterprising rugby on attack, but just couldn’t close out the opportunity, allowing the home side to hold on to their 17-13 lead at the break.

It took 10 minutes of helter-skelter action before the next score, Lood de Jager managing to bustle his way over for his team’s third try, giving the Cheetahs a worrying 24-13 lead.

It was a frustrating half for the Sharks who just couldn’t close out some promising opportunities as they chased the game and found the Cheetahs’ defence - the worst in the competition this year – to be up for this challenge.

But after a few unfortunate near-misses, they got it perfectly right, winning a scrum penalty, kicking to the corner, the perfect lineout take and a wonderful driving maul that the Cheetahs had absolutely no counter against, allowing Bismarck du Plessis to dot down and Tim Swiel to convert to bring the Sharks back to within seven points and five minutes to play.

The Stormers maintained their recent run of form with a 16-0 Super Rugby win over the Bulls at Newlands on a cold Saturday night.

The hosts scored the game’s only try – a first-ever try in Stormers colours for fullback Jaco Taute – and they were deserved winners against the Men from Pretoria, who had beaten the Stormers in Pretoria last time out.

DHL Stormers flyhalf Kurt Coleman converted Taute’s try in the 14th minute – having made the initial break before feeding a rampaging Nizaam Carr, who, in turn put Taute away – and he also slotted three penalties for a match-haul of 11 points.

Flanker Carr, meanwhile, was voted as the official Man of the Match, having once again impressed in all facets of play for the DHL Stormers.

The Stormers were clinical with ball in hand and offered nothing in defence as they kept the Bulls scoreless and did not even give them a kick at goal. They have now won their last four matches in succession, their previous defeat having been against the selfsame Bulls on May 10.

The weather conditions were the talk of town in the lead-up to tonight’s match. Although it was cold, some 33,565 spectators still braved the low temperatures and had to put up with a bit of rain early in the second half.