Well done Sharks, it was a good win, a decent win but most importantly, a necessary win – just don’t get too excited just yet.
The finalists of last year met at Loftus the past weekend in what almost seemed a trivial affair given the hype that surrounded the final last year, and the bad form of South African sides so far this year.
It was still an important game though. For the Bulls it was extremely important given their hammering received at the hand of the Crusaders the weekend before – and for the Sharks it was vitally important to keep their momentum going and stay in touch with the leading sides in the competition.
There was of course, the revenge factor too given last year’s final result… But that was basically just important to supporters of the two franchises.
For me it was important that the Sharks showed what they are made of, because given the humiliation (and yes it is a strong word but justified) the Bulls suffered at the hands of the Crusaders, one can only hope they end up at the top end of the log at best – the Sharks however needed to show that they are real contenders – and to be frank, I am still not convinced.
The match against the Bulls (and I am going to go back to a piece I wrote last year on the Sharks) showed me more of where the Sharks fall short, than give me confidence of a semi-final birth later this year.
Last year, surprisingly, they seemed to follow a similar pattern. After the Crusaders match last year (where they scored an injury time try to clinch the match) I warned that the Sharks, although rightfully being stoked by the victory, should take note of their deficiencies because it is going to cost them.
Their next match (if memory serves) I predicted a Sharks loss at home to the Brumbies because those deficiencies I mentioned, were not addressed, particularly through selections – and I distinctly remember a certain RobD being very pissed off with me because of that prediction – well at least until such time the game ended in any event.
For me similar types of weaknesses or areas that need to be addressed were exposed in the Bulls match.
I maintain that the Sharks has arguably the best balanced side in South Africa, and given just a bit more time, even the ELV’s won’t stand in their way – that is of course unless they address a couple of issues I picked up.
The first issue they have little power over, simply because of player resources available to them. The injury to Bismarck exposed a major lack of depth at hooker for the Sharks and they should pray Bismarck will be able to play for the majority of this season – or front the cash to get John Smit back.
Also, I believe the loss of Ackerman is much bigger than most anticipate. The old man has played some of the best rugby I have seen him play ever in his last 3 games for the Sharks, and what has impressed me most, was his work rate – it was in my opinion the best of any tight forward in that pack and under the ELV’s, that is vitally important.
There are two more issues but they basically go hand-in-hand.
For some reason the Sharks, while constructing attacks seem to lose momentum at crucial stages. Not only while on attack, but for the majority of the time they spend on the field.
The type of possession they get should be used more effectively, yet I see more unstructured play from them than I see from the Stormers – somehow, somewhere, momentum or direction is missing.
I thought the injury to Pienaar might allow me to narrow this problem area down, because I believed Pienaar could also be the weak link in this, and it did. The Sharks are making a mistake to continue playing Barritt at 12. The kid has talent, no doubt, the kid has skill, no doubt, but the kid off form at the moment.
I never quite understood our coaches infatuation with not dropping a player not in form believing he will play himself into form – it is daft!
When the guy is off-form, give him a rest – hell it is no crime to lose a bit of form and no doubt he will get it back – but why persist with the player if he is clearly struggling?
What perplexes me more about this scenario is that the Sharks have a player that was rather successful playing at 12, at the highest level, in the most important competition in rugby less than 6 months ago – why not slot him in there?
I have made mention to a Sharks supporters that I would obviously not discard Barritt totally, neither would I throw young Steyn to the wolves or in the deep end, but in Steyn, Jacobs and Barritt you have 3 guys to rotate in what is fast becoming the most important backline position under the ELV’s.
A 12 that does not continue, or create momentum in attack nullifies any outside threats you have and in the Sharks case, Waylon Murray and JP Pietersen specifically. Momentum currently stops at Barritt, and that is suicidal when they will come up against tougher opposition or when they will go on tour.
So what to do with Pienaar, Kockett, Steyn, Barritt and Stefan Terblanche?
Quite simple in my view. First choices currently should be Kockett, Steyn at 12, and Terblanche at 15 – especially on tour. Muir should pull Pienaar close and ask him whether he would want to cover for Kockett, Michelak or Terblanche, and if Pienaar sees every week what I see I hope he decides Michelak or Terblanche. Muir should also pull Barritt closer, take some heat off him and play him from the bench a couple of games on tour, and even drop him from the match 22 completely allowing him to re-focus – he should do the same with Adi Jacobs and also be very clear to Steyn that although he has the inside lane, he is in no way assured of the 12 jersey and will not start every match.
Terblanche, being the old man that he is will also not start every match and for that both Steyn and Pienaar can cover him – depending on team dynamics and where Muir sees his players.
For me, Kockett to start every match, Pienaar to start at least 2 games on tour at 15 and at least one at 10 otherwise coming off the bench, Steyn to start at least 3 games at 12 with cover provided by either Barritt or Jacobs (who can cover 13 too) getting at least 30 minutes game-time depending on the match situation of course.
It does not help anyone, or any cause, to sit with so much talent and not use it. It also, in my view, does not help if you do not create a rivalry between players playing for the same jersey – in my view that is healthy, and necessary given I sense some complacency in the ranks.
When the Sharks did seem to retain momentum, they looked a class above the Bulls – it just does not happen often enough – and thanks to Bulls discipline, or lack thereof, the Sharks came away with the spoils – it won’t be quite the same this weekend.
The Sharks have their toughest test coming up this weekend against the rampant Blues, and the fact that the Blues are in their 3rd week of their South African tour might help the Sharks a lot, and believe me, I think they are going to need it if they do not address some glaring weaknesses in their make up this week.Tweet