In the lead-up to the game there was just one thing on everyone’s mind: Would the Waratah scrum hold up enough to allow the Waratahs running game to dominate?
Both teams lined up in a very windy stadium with the wind behind the Waratahs in the first half. All kick-offs went deep because of the swirling wind with several kicks finding the grass.
Waratahs were first to score when the Stormers knock-backs finally went in goal for a 5 metre scrum. Gordon scooted, try converted by Foley 7-0. Next score was a Sharks penalty after desperate Waratah defence, 7-3. Then the Sharks scored a spectacular try off some Waratah mistakes to make it 10-7. Later in the half the Waratahs got a couple of penalties in good positions and finally Foley kicked a goal to square it up at 10-10. It stayed that way till half time, but only just as Mtawarira was held up by Folau on the line. Two line-saves in two weeks!
Just before half time Beale went off injured, replaced by Newsome. No news on the severity. The Sharks appeared to be on top and would turn with the wind at their backs.
There was plenty of back and forth, mistakes galore, Kellaway was having a mare. A brilliant run from Lukhanyo Am, the Shark 13, saw him score again close to the posts, converted by du Preez. Sharks 17-10. Shortly after Foley made a ridiculous forward pass to Newsome in a threatening position. Then Wells knocked on in a good position. Kellaway was replaced by Hegarty with Folau going to the wing.Another great run by the Sharks through the centres but their winger knocked on. Tawaki came on to replace Ryan and Palmer to replace Holloway. Not sure Wells didn’t deserve a rest more than Hollaway, given his errors with the ball.
The Sharks took a quick throw by Daniel but it went majorly wrong and Robertson collected and passed to Hooper who cleared out to score. Foley converted for 17-17. The Waratahs then went up a gear and looked likely to run away with it but then made an error; scrum and scrum penalty to Sharks as expected. Curwin Bosch tried a 55 metre penalty but missed to the side.
A bad Foley pass caused more mayhem. The Waratahs scrum was under serious pressure and two scrums in a row the ball was won but kicked back by the second row and turned over. There was excellent Waratah defence to clear their lines. Mitch Short came on for Gordon and immediately ran straight through the Sharks lineout but a Waratah mistake again caused a breakdown.
The Sharks then scored after another Waratah mistake. Short dropped a pass he should have taken, the ball went to Louw who chipped, regathered and passed to du Preez who ran in to score and converted his own try. At 70 minutes you sensed it was game over. Sharks 24-17. But Foley, Foketi, Hegarty and Short combined to score a great try in the corner. Foley converted 24-24 with two minutes to go.
Both sides had chances to open it up, Curwin Bosch tried a drop goal, Sharks had a scrum on the 22 but the Waratahs cleared and then after the 80 the Sharks knocked on. Game over, a kissing-your-sister draw.
The scrum is still a disaster and Tawaki is not the answer. Kepu has to fly to Argentina otherwise the Jaguares scrum will bury the Waratahs scrum completely. Gibson has learnt nothing from the Ta’avao experience in 2016.
The mistake/turnover rate was ridiculously high. Surely Kellaway has played himself out of the 23. Thankfully the Sharks played with similar carelessness. Foley was error-ridden this week despite his match-saving conversion kicking. Foketi played very well and was probably the Waratahs best, though Rona, Newsome, Hegarty and Gordon were all good. In the forwards Hooper and Hanigan were good and Robertson better than last week. Wells made too many mistakes and Holloway did some good things. Ryan was a penalty magnet. Palmer impressed, Staniforth was quite solid but his carries were ineffective. This was not a great overall performance.
Daniel had a nightmare game and overall the Sharks probably made as many mistakes as the Waratahs. Their scrum is better than the Waratahs but their lineout, particularly in the first half, was poor. They have some good backs – du Preez is all class and Lukhanyo Am is a star attacker but not so good a defender. Bosch and Mvovo were sometimes good and sometimes bad at the back.
Neither team showed much potential to make the finals because they have similar basic weaknesses. They are both trying to play helter-skelter rugby without the necessary skillsets. The Waratahs forwards lack skills, as do the Sharks backs. There was tension aplenty tonight but not a lot of good rugby.
The Game Changer
In the end, there wasn’t one. Both teams conspired to completely wreck their own momentum by a knock-on, forward pass or some other brain snap.
The G&GR MOTM
Not too many standouts. Foketi and Hanigan were probably best for the Waratahs and du Preez and Lukhanyo Am for the Sharks. Official MotM was Lukhanyo Am.
Ned Hanigan is starting to show some power and mongrel. He may yet prove the doubters wrong.
Crowd: Unknown, but small. Why would you schedule the game at the same time as a SA-Australia cricket test? Surely a night game was a better option?
Score & Scorers
Tries: Lukhanyo Am (2), du Preez
Conversions: du Preez (3)
Penalties: du Preez (1)
Tries: Gordon, Hooper, Short
Conversions: Foley (3)
Penalties: Foley (1)
Cards & citings
None. Its clear after three rounds that deliberate knock-downs are no longer considered cardable.