Sharks end Craven Week on a high with win over Blue Bulls

29 June 2024

(Article by Marlowe Bloem; feature photo: Sharks and SA Schools fullback Zekhethelo Siyaya)

It was the Sharks versus the Blue Bulls on Saturday, the final day of the 2024 Stadio Craven Week in Krugersdorp.

Both had established themselves as being among the leading teams at the week. The Sharks lost their first game, going down 26-36 to Western Province in a game they had every chance to win. Then, they beat the South Western District Eagles 28-19.

The Blue Bulls, meanwhile, sneaked by the Golden Lions 35-34 and lost to the Free State Cheetahs 27-34.

In Saturday’s showdown, it took a while for some movement to happen on the scoreboard, but it was the Bulls who broke the deadlock in the 12th minute.

With the Sharks on the attack, deep inside the opposition half, the ball was knocked on. Bulls’ wing Junaide Stuart swooped onto it, pinned his ears back, and sprinted 70 metres before beating the last Sharks’ defender with a nice side-step which put him in under the posts. In all, it was an individual effort of 80 metres. Ruben Pienaar added the extras.

The Blue Bulls’ flyhalf had an opportunity to extend his side’s lead when the Sharks conceded a penalty for a high tackle in the 32nd minute. Pienaar’s effort from 50 metres missed, however.

It was a first half which could be summarised by the term “raw”, as both sides played very physical rugby. It was attritional stuff, often resulting in scrums and lineouts. The battle up front was fierce with the Sharks and their SA Schools props, Phiwayinkosi Kubheka and Aiden Botha, being matched by the beefy Bulls’ pack.

The halftime score of 7-0 was the lowest at half-time during the 2024 Craven week.

In the second half, however, the Sharks were on the hunt. When they won a Bulls’ lineout, 40 metres out from their in-goal area, they made that possession count, swiftly swinging the ball out wide, which resulted in Westville fullback Zekhethelo Siyaya, another SA Schools selection, dotting down in the left-hand corner. Michaelhouse flyhalf Luke Davidson narrowly missed the challenging conversion.

In the 44th minute, the Sharks were reduced to 14 men after Duncan Basson was shown a yellow card for head-on-head contact while making a tackle. The Bulls used the penalty to kick deep into the Sharks’ 22.

From their lineout, they attempted to maul their way over the try line from 10 metres out, but the maul collapsed. Scrumhalf Hendré Schoeman then sent the ball out to centre and captain Janco Purchase, and he squeezed between two defenders for a try. The conversion attempt failed.

Ten minutes later, the Sharks hit back through DHS loose forward Khanyisa Stamper, who went over for five after breaking away from a maul off of a lineout. Throughout the Craven Week, the Sharks’ lineout was rock solid and, arguably, their biggest strength. Davidson added two to the Sharks’ total.

There was bad news for the Bulls when lock James Schnetler received a yellow card in the 59th minute for an illegal clear-out at a ruck.

Not long after his departure, the Sharks struck again. From a scrum, the Blue Bulls kicked for territory. The ball was fielded by Siyaya, and he showed why he is so highly rated by dancing through three defenders before giving a no-look pass to Stamper, who ran over two defenders before forcing his way over in the left-hand corner. It was an astonishing try, featuring both flair and power.

Davidson, once more, was on target with the conversion attempt.

The boys in black and white weren’t done. In the 65th minute, DHS star Aka Boqwana, an SA Schools A selection, put in a cross kick from his own five-metre line. Siyaya caught it on the 22, then sprinted 60 metres before wrong footing a defender and continuing on to take the dive for five. Davidson tacked on two more to increase the Sharks’ lead to 26-12.

There was some consolation for the Bulls, who scored the last points of the game, with a penalty try. Prop Aphiwe Shelembe was shown a yellow card for collapsing a Bulls’ lineout maul. But it was too late for them. Victory went to the Sharks by a 26-19 margin.

An epic encounter, it served as a perfect send-off for the Sharks’ Craven Week campaign. The second half was a showcase of the resilience and flair of the KZN side. The Bulls were formidable and physical up front, and their backs were explosive, but the Sharks had the answers that mattered on the day.

Western Province took their consecutive wins streak to a record 15 in succession after beating Free State 37-24 in the unofficial final. If there is one “what-if” that might hang over the Sharks’ campaign, it would be what if they had made proper use of a two-man advantage they had against Province when the defending champs had two players sent off late in their opening game.

Still, though, it was an encouraging Craven Week for the Sharks, and the talent on display suggests that South African rugby can look forward to a prosperous future.

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