And at the final whistle the reaction of the players said it all – they sunk to their knees in relief that they had manufactured a fitting end to what has been a very painful Super Rugby season.
It was only at the three-quarter-mark, when the younger Du Plessis brother had scored and his elder boet had just walked off to a standing ovation, that the Sharks took control of a match that for so long dithered along as the non-entity it ultimately was in terms of the competition.
There really could be only one winner of this final Super Rugby round robin game of the year given that the Sharks were at home, were posting a farewell to three legends, and the Stormers had played ball by offering up a “B” team to the sacrificial altar.
But it seemed the script had not been given to the Capetonians and they could well have been ahead at half-time after the Sharks had produced a précis of their season with a half of mistakes, unfinished opportunities and a mandatory yellow card for a tip tackle (André Esterhuizen’s second of the season).
Of course, the Stormers could afford to be magnanimous on their team selection given they had already qualified for the play-offs and only Nizaam Carr had started the week before against the Lions, and he will step down this week for superstar Duane Vermeulen.
The “scratch” Stormers played anything like a patched-up bunch of misfits and they well deserved their lead on 10 minutes when Kurt Coleman kicked a penalty goal, and there was a further boost for the Cape team a minute later when Esterhuizen was quite rightly binned for a tip tackle on Michael Rhodes.
That opening quarter said so much about the poor rugby the Shark have played this season but they could not complain when they got the rub of the green from a TMO decision that could have gone either way when Sharks flyhalf Lionel Cronjé and Stormers wing Pat Howard seemed to have simultaneously grounded the ball in the Stormers’ in-goal area. There has been a mad scramble upfield from a hack ahead from Cronjé, and then a follow-on tap-kick from Odwa Ndungane, before a final dash for the ball.
Cronjé got the nod from TMO Marius Jonker to give his team an against-the-run-of play lead at 5-3, but just two minutes later Coleman landed his second penalty to regain the lead at 6-5.
Coleman added a third penalty on the half-hour mark and Cronjé answered with a penalty to make it 8-9 to the Stormers.
Scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer slipped over after the Sharks’ best passage of play and they went into the break 13-9 up, having played almost no rugby. Coleman made it 12-13. But an occasion such as this had to have its moment of magic when an impudent Bismarck grubber down the blindside touchline for Ndungane eventually saw the hooker regain the ball 50m later for a try that put some daylight between the teams at 20-12.
There would be further tries from fullback Lwazi Mvovo and the enduring and ever-popular Ndungane to give the scoreline the severity the occasion warranted, but this match was by no means one-way traffic.
Sharks (13) 34
Tries: Cronjé, Ungerer, B du Plessis, Mvovo, Ndungane; Conversions: Cronjé (2), Zeilinga; Penalty: Cronjé
Stormers (9) 12
Penalties: Coleman (4)
Original source: Sharks sink Stormers second-stringers