The Sharks did not have enough left in the tank as they were beaten in the Vodacom Super Rugby Grand Final by the Chiefs in a wet Hamilton on Saturday.
The Chiefs won their first-ever title in the second final at the Waikato Stadium when they beat The Sharks by 37-6 after leading by 13-3 at the break.
The team from Waikato have become only the sixth Vodacom Super Rugby champion since the game turned professional midway through the 1990s, adding their name to the list of winners with that of the Blues (1996, 1997, 2003), Crusaders (1998-2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008), Brumbies (2001, 2004), Bulls (2007, 2009, 2010) and Reds (2011).
The Chiefs’ 31-point victory margin in the final is the second biggest in the history of the competition – behind the Vodacom Bulls’ win by 61-17 over the team from Waikato in 2009 (44 points).
For The Sharks it was heart-break in a final for the fourth time – they also fell short in 1996, 2001 and 2007.
Chiefs 37 (13) The Sharks 6 (3)
It wasn’t to be for The Sharks as they got stunned by a superb second-half performance by the Chiefs that ultimately saw the team from Waikato win the Vodacom Super Rugby Grand Final at a canter by 37-6 in Hamilton on Saturday.
The Chiefs scored three tries after the break, while their hectic travel schedule of the last few weeks and all the high-intensity rugby they were asked to play seemingly finally taking its toll on The Sharks.
Even though they were trialling by 13-3 at the break, The Sharks were not completely out of it, but Kane Thompson’s try five minutes after the restart signalled the beginning of the end for the visitors.
The Sharks had to travel more than 40,000km to get to the final in Hamilton in the last three weeks since their last league match, in Durban against the Toyota Cheetahs. They had very tough playoffs against the Reds in Brisbane and the DHL Stormers in Cape Town, and it showed.
Although The Sharks started well and looked solid for the first part of the match, they could not find their rhythm or a way through the Chiefs’ solid defence – the second best in the competition behind the DHL Stormers.
On the contrary, the Chiefs took their chances against a tiring Sharks team. In the first half Tim Nanai-Williams rounded off a move following a good linebreak by Sonny Bill Williams, who also got on the score sheet late in the match.
Their other try was scored by Lelia Masaga, who pounced on a loose ball and outsprinted the Sharks’ defence. This try was a good example of how the final was panning out for the visitors – they were behind on the score board and desperately tried to make up some much-needed points, only to concede possession after some hard work that ended up in points for the Chiefs.
The passes wouldn’t stick or didn’t go where they were supposed to, they slipped tackles they would normally make quite easily and their usual solid set-piece was a bit shaky. It was simply not The Sharks’ day.
Apart from the four tries, Chiefs flyhalf Aaron Cruden kicked 17 points and finished the season as the top points’ scorer with 251 points.
Chiefs – Tries: Tim Nanai-Williams, Kane Thompson, Lelia Masaga, Sonny Bill Williams. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (4). Penalty goals: Cruden (3).
The Sharks – Penalty goals: Fred Michalak (2).