Sharks 27 Western Force 22
I’ve banged on a bit about Matt Hodgson being the backbone of the Force’s efforts this year but in the face of adversity you cannot fault the commitment, workrate and leadership of Captain Nathan Sharpe.
Hodgo was consistently outstanding at openside when he took over from Bam Pocock due to injury and continues to impress in his other loose forward roles.
However, Sharpie has been a colossus in a modest team that got off to the worst possible start in the Super 14.
There were hopes that the loss of Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Scott Staniforth and others was going to be softened by the recruitment of Andre Pretorius, Brett Sheehan, Matt Dunning, Mark Bartholomeusz and a return to full fitness of Wallaby Cameron Shepherd.
As it turned out, a disastrous run of injuries torpedoed any chance of them grabbing a top half of the table spot. I don’t think there was ever a realistic suggestion that they’d be competitive for a finals place but if all went well maybe a mid-table finish.
Sharpie has blossomed in these difficult circumstances. There has never been any doubts about his leadership credentials but there has been over his form and ability to completely satisfy a lock’s job description i.e. not tight enough for a tight fiver.
Last year it appeared he was on the verge of having his international career terminated due to some of these concerns but was probably saved by the injury toll to some of his competitors.
Sure, he’s always seagulled a bit (maybe he’s wanted to be a loose forward) and appeared to be easily put on the deck by opposition tacklers.
But who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. He’s not seagulling any more, he’s operating a bit closer to the ruck and gets over the gain line more often than not.
If you have a look at the match stats for the 13 Super 14 games, he’s the go-to man with the most forward runs – Matt Hodgson is next. In the Sharks match he carried the ball twice as many times as any other forward and is very effective at getting over the gain line.
Not only that but in the lineout he’s calling himself when the pressure possessions are required to be won, especially in the red zones and he’s definitely not shirking any ruck/maul engagements.
All up, he’s been the most impressive Australian lock in the Super 14 and looks assured of being the No 1 selection when Robbie comes calling.
This game was relatively entertaining and the Force were in it right up until the end.
Wasn’t it great to see such an animated crowd with nothing much at stake. It seemed more like a Pommy soccer crowd with their chanting and singing. Maybe there was a free issue of ‘Cane and Coke’ on the night?
It didn’t take long before the Sharks were on the board with a neat try to winger ‘Upper Mvovo’.
Did the commentators (Joel Stransky and co) give it away or was it just misinformation? “This is John Mitchell’s last game with the Force”. Really? Do they know something we don’t or are they just assuming what we’re assuming?
Brett Sheehan kept the Force in the match with a couple of well directed long range penalties, about 50m each. Likewise Rabbit O’Connor with three shorter range ones before the break.
Eighthman Ryan Kankowski scored the only try of the half after breaking from an attacking scrum and running over Barty to score under the posts. He was able to do this because the Sharks scrum was dominant – a big push and a screw kept Pocock attached a shade too long to do anything about it.
It was 17-15 to the Shorks at halftime with possession favouring the Force 54% to 46%.
A maul by the home team in the 47th min resulted in a Jacques Botes try, 24-15.
At the 60 min mark, the Force scored their try of the year (even better than the Charles/Inman/Shepherd/ Hodgson effort). JO’C started it behind his own line – Inman carried it on with an extended run – back to JO’C and then they’re hot on attack.
Fairbrother, Turner, Cross then Cummins to finish it off in the corner. What a corker!
The Force put a lot of pressure on in the final 20 min but made stupid errors, pushed passes and couldn’t get over the line. A final Sharks penalty for 27-22.
Hodgson and Pocock were again dynamic and Fairbrother did a lot of the work. O’Connor and Inman were the pick of the backs.
Finishing 13 out of 14 is a poor result in anybody’s terms. A couple of good wins against the Stormers and Crusaders were the positive but they didn’t have the depth to cope with the injury toll, and losing the first six in a row determined their fate.
The commentator’s prediction awaits……
Put his hand up: Nathan Sharpe. He’s in terrific form for an old bloke and the best Oz lock going around.
Did himself no favours: Referee Pro Legoete. I understand why they have a quota system but it should be tested in the Vodacom and Currie Cups, not the Super 14 where Australian teams are concerned. This guy refereed the match by rote – he had no ‘feel’ for the game and is not up to Super 14 standard.
Bolter watch: Mitch Inman. Same as last week – very promising but some way to go.