Sharks hold on to secure final against Chiefs
7/28/2012 9:20:02 PM -
CAPE TOWN (AFP) - Coastal Sharks withstood a stoppage-time onslaught inside their '22' to defeat Western Stormers 26-19 in an all-South African Super 15 semi-final at Newlands Saturday.
Stormers camped close to the try-line for several minutes as they sought the converted try that would have taken the southern hemisphere provincial championship showdown into 20 minutes of extra time.
But in a reversal of usual roles, outside centre JP Pietersen 'cleaned out' the Stormers at a ruck and flank and skipper Keegan Daniel booted the ball into touch to end a game watched by a capacity 48,000 crowd in cool, windy conditions.
After defeating title holders Queensland Reds 30-17 in Australia last weekend to reach the last four, the Sharks head "down under" again to face Waikato Chiefs of New Zealand in the final next Saturday at Hamilton.
There will be a new title holder whoever wins as Sharks lost previous deciders to the Reds, New South Wales Waratahs and fellow South Africans Northern Bulls, who spoilt the Chiefs' only previous appearance with a massive victory.
Chiefs defeated the Sharks 18-12 in Durban during the league season and will be favourites, but this was the Sharks' eighth triumph in nine matches, including back-to-back victories in Adelaide and Cape Town, and they are hungry underdogs.
Stormers know the heartache of losing in the semi-finals well with many of the team that could never establish authority over the Sharks also involved in a much heavier last-four loss against Canterbury Crusaders at Newlands last year.
"It was tough and we had to put our bodies on the line," admitted Daniel. "While we celebrated at the end it is important to remember that we have won nothing yet."
Rival captain and inside centre Jean de Villiers found defeat difficult to accept: "It will take a while to get over this and we can blame only ourselves. It is particularly tough on our supporters as we let them down badly."
Well rested after receiving a bye last weekend for finishing the league season on top of the table, Stormers were first to score with fly-half Peter Grant slotting a seventh-minute penalty.
Recalled France fly-half Frederic Michalak levelled from another penalty born out of fiery scrummaging by loosehead prop Tendai 'The Beast' Mtawarira and the pivot dropped a goal at the end of the first quarter to edge Sharks ahead.
Stormers flank Siya Kolisi lost possession when in a threatening position and De Villiers was held up by lock Willem Alberts over the line as the home team sought to regain the initiative.
But the visitors from Indian Ocean city Durban forged further ahead five minutes before half-time when right wing Louis Ludik outjumped full-back Joe Pietersen to gather a kick ahead and evaded three tackles before dotting down.
Michalak converted for a 13-3 advantage only for Grant to succeed with his second penalty on the stroke of half-time and the Stormers were seven points adrift going into the dressing rooms.
The Frenchman missed with a drop goal attempt and succeeded with a penalty early in the second half and full-back Riaan Viljoen fell just short with a long kick at goal as Sharks continued to have the better of the exchanges.
A third Grant penalty kept the Stormers in touch before they suffered a hammer blow just short of the hour mark when Pietersen raced through a defensive gap for a try Michalak converted and the visitors were 14 points ahead.
Grant failed with his fourth penalty effort before right wing Gio Aplon offered the Stormers hope by racing over for a converted try, which was followed soon after by a penalty and there were just four points in it.
But hopes of a dramatic recovery from the Cape Town franchise receded as Michalak landed another drop goal on 76 minutes before he and his team-mates survived the late onslaught.