After watching the Chiefs excite us all with their all court running game yesterday, we were treated to a very much more South African semi final today, the Sharks beating the Stormers 26-19.
The tone was set in the first minute; the young Springbok second row, Eben Etzebeth, the Stormers giant go to man, took the ball and ran at Bismarck Du Plessis, knocking him into oblivion. Yes that Du Plessis, the granite cut beast who bullied England into submission a matter of weeks ago. We had a game on our hands.
On balance you would have to say that the Stormers had the better of the game, certainly they applied more pressure and spent a long time in the Sharks 22, however their reward came in penalties more often than not.
The Sharks on the hand were playing in a more smash and grab manner, twice they engineered drop goals for Michalak, and twice they scored fast tries to pull away, including a gem from JP Pietersen. The Springbok wing was playing in the centres and scored a try that any thirteen would be proud of, ghosting through the Stormers defence without so much as a hand being laid on him.
It all sets up an exciting encounter with the Chiefs, and after seeing Freddie Michalak perform so well under pressure today, his match up with Aaron Cruden in Hamilton looks set to be crucial. The Sharks back row will also require a lot of maintenance from the Chiefs and they will require Liam Messam to be in the sort of form he was yesterday to help counter the threat of the likes of Kankowski.
Expect an attritional final, the Sharks will do everything in their power to prevent the Chiefs from unleashing those backs and their deep running game. The Chiefs by contrast will look to move the ball and to keep it well away from the set piece where that all Springbok front row could cause them some real damage.
All in all it looks set to be a great encounter, with two sides with something to prove – the Chiefs are looking to become the top dogs in New Zealand, while the Sharks are looking to avenge that heartbreaking 2007 Super Rugby final to the Bulls.
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