Rush defence worked like a charm
Rush defence worked like a charmSHARE
The spotlight was placed mostly on the Sharks' effective kicking game, but their defence was just as critical to the success of their Final campaign.
Brad MacLeod-Henderson, speaking after his team's 33-19 triumph over the previously unbeaten Western Province in the Currie Cup Final at Newlands at the weekend, was full of praise for how his players "physically" stood up to the opposition and described them as "amazing".
And while he was happy to heap praise on the kickers, just like the Province camp did, for their fine execution of their well-planned tactics, it was on defence where the Sharks made the biggest shift in the Final.
The team was still formally under the guidance of Brendan Venter, but there was more than just a hint that parts of Jake White's famed rush-defence was employed in the Final.
By all accounts Venter was "hands-on" at training last week, but White – who will take over now that the Currie Cup season is over – was an interesting observer at Sharks training sessions earlier in the season.
The credit was also formally given to Venter, as well as his assistants – MacLeod-Henderson and Sean Everitt.
And MacLeod-Henderson admitted that it was a deliberate tactic to come hard off the line and deny the fleet-footed Province backs any time and space.
"We knew that we needed to win the collisions," the Sharks' forward coach said.
"The easiest way to win the collisions is to get off the line aggressively," he said, adding: "We wanted to do that, we knew they had some big ball carriers up front and if we could snuff them out we wouldn't allow them any momentum.
"We focussed quite hard on getting off the line on defence to put them under pressure and obviously when they start moving it out wide we'd move our wing up to close down any space," he said of a tactic first made famous during Jake White's successful 2007 World Cup campaign – where WP coach Allister Coetzee was his assistant and current Sharks CEO John Smit was White's captain.
MacLeod-Henderson said their defence worked really well and it was great that they managed to keep it up for 80 minutes.
"It was definitely our best performance of the year and has been a fantastic end to what has been a great Currie Cup [campaign] for us."
He said physically the guys were "amazing" and they certainly stood up in the contact areas.
"Our kicking game was strong and our defence was awesome," the forwards mentor said.
He admitted that having been the underdogs going into the game helped "a bit" with motivation.
"The guys started like a house on fire and continued for 80 minutes," MacLeod-Henderson said, adding: "We are very fortunate [that ] we've got some fantastic players.
"Frans Steyn showed again what a class act he is.
"Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck [du Plessis], Beast [Tendai Mtawarira] – everyone stood up.
"A couple of young guys, [like] Pieter-Steph du Toit was amazing. SP Marais played fantastically."
He also admitted that having had Bismarck du Plessis cleared by a disciplinary hearing, with his brother Jannie recovering from injury and Willem Alberts declared fit had a huge impact.
"Those three are world class players," he said, adding: "Bismarck and Jannie have 50 Tests both of them.
"Willem showed what he is capable of – he just stepped up.
"To have those three guys available made a massive difference.
"When a Springbok comes back down [to the Currie Cup competition from Test rugby] you want him to play like a Springbok.
"Those guys that were on national duty had a long season, it has been a long year. For them to come out and play the way they did, it just showed what it meant to them."
By Jan de Koning, at Newlands