FORMER Sharks coach Ian McIntosh and Stormers forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot said yesterday that the Sharks could hold their heads high despite going down to the Chiefs in the Super Rugby final, and agreed the match was perhaps one too many for the exhausted team.
In a heartbreaking finish to the season, the energy-sapped Sharks battled to overcome travel fatigue and a charged-up Chiefs side in Hamilton, and were forced to settle for a 37-6 defeat.
The visitors did well to shut out the hard-running Chiefs in the first 15 minutes of the clash and their solid defence kept them in the game until the break as they trailed 13-3.
But the Chiefs' effective game plan to kick the ball behind the Sharks' defensive line from their own half and to run hard at the defence at the other end of the field delivered the desired results in the second half as the Sharks' energy levels dipped.
This earned the Chiefs four tries and their first Super Rugby title since the competitions' inception in 1996.
McIntosh, who guided the Sharks' class of 1996 to the final against the Blues in Auckland, was sympathetic towards the team and summed up the defeat by saying: "In only a few words, it was one trip too many (for the team)."
He said the Sharks' gruelling travel schedule, which included a trip to Brisbane for the quarterfinal, a semifinal in Cape Town and a final in Hamilton, made a victory virtually impossible.
"The jet lag undoubtedly took its toll on the players," he said. "If they had an extra week to prepare for the final it would have helped them from a physical perspective. They tried hard to get into the game in the first 20 minutes, but even then I thought they did not play with the same energy they showed against the Stormers.
"They battled to get onto the front foot and they found themselves under pressure at times. But that said, the Chiefs deserve credit for their impressive performance. They clearly did their homework and they did well to shut down the Sharks."
McIntosh admitted, however, that if the Sharks had defied the odds and won the clash it would have gone down in history as one of the most memorable victories in South African rugby.
Proudfoot spoke equally highly of the Sharks, and said any team in a similar situation would have battled to push through for a win.
"It was definitely one game too many for them," he said. "They started incredibly well, but as the game progressed it was clear that they were tired. However, it was always going to be a struggle for them to win the series after all their travelling.
"Judging by their efforts in the last few weeks to get into the final, however, they should be pleased about what they achieved. At one point their Super Rugby play-off hopes were in jeopardy, so it took a special effort to advance to the final," said Proudfoot.