The Sharks upset the formbook, beating Western Province 17-12 to win their eighth Currie Cup title at a sweltering Newlands on Saturday.
It was the Sharks’ first title since 2013 and for WP it was a bitter end to a campaign in which they played some memorable rugby.
WP didn’t have enough firepower to handle the bludgeoning, territory-based game plan the visitors brought to Newlands.
WP’s lineout also malfunctioned alarmingly and the Sharks were able to score the only tries of the match through hooker Akker van der Merwe and flank Tyler Paul.
It was fitting their tries came from the forwards, who were excellent in the tight loose and lineout, if not at the scrum.
Although the match was in the balance until the end, but the Sharks carved out more chances over the 80 minutes and were the better team on the day.
The Du Preez twins, Dan and Jean-Luc, carried powerfully into contact all day and when Coenie Oosthuizen entered the battle after halftime, his ability to crash it up into contact kept WP on the back foot.
Van der Merwe scored the first try of the match in the 44th minute after the Sharks smashed the ball up through multiple phases. Paul’s try was from a similar multiple phase attack that eventually cracked the stressed WP defence.
Victory was no less than the Sharks deserved after halfbacks Louis Schreuder and Rob du Preez created pressure with the boot by keeping WP pinned back. The home team battled to exit effectively and remained in the wrong areas of the pitch for large parts of the contest.
WP also crumbled at the lineout, losing five on their own throw. That allowed the Sharks a strong foothold in the game and broke WP’s momentum. Conversely the WP’s scrum dominated, earning three scrum penalties, but it wasn’t enough to give them the overall edge.
The match was a dour arm-wrestle in the 36-degree heat and as a spectacle, it won’t be a final remembered with any fondness.
Prior to the match WP were unbeaten in the competition but as the pressure ratcheted up in the play-offs, their style and carefree spirit deserted them even though they led 6-0 at halftime thanks to two SP Marais penalties.
The Sharks could only blame themselves for not having any points at the break. They turned down a guaranteed three-points from a penalty in front of the uprights after a period of dominance, opting for a scrum.
WP shoved them off the ball and the moment and the momentum the Sharks had built after a seven-minute passage of ferocious pressure on the WP line, had gone.
Prior to that missed opportunity referee Jaco Peyper twice referred possible Sharks tries to Television Match Official Shaun Veldsman, and twice WP survived.
Prop Thomas du Toit’s attempt was miraculously thwarted by Marais somehow placing his arm under the ball, with his opponents in the act of scoring.
Minutes later flank Jean-Luc du Preez thought he had grounded the ball at the base of an upright for a try, but video evidence suggested a knock on and the try was declined.
Captain Schreuder backed the momentum his team had built but misjudged the situation as the Sharks pack had been struggling in the scrum to that point. WP attacked the set piece as soon as Schreuder fed and the end result was a knock-on at the base, by an under pressure Dan du Preez.
There were numerous handling errors from both sides in a match where tactical kicking was the predominant weapon of choice, a battle the Sharks comfortably won on their way to winning the war.
Scorers:WP – Penalties: SP Marais (3), Damian Willemse..Sharks – Tries: Akker van der Merwe, Tyler Paul. Conversions: Rob du Preez (2). Penalty: Rob du Preez.