The Sharks’ rapid fall from grace in this year’s Super 14 was a long time coming as their inability to score tries has finally caught up with them.
Steve Farrell of Rugby 365 reports that the Sharks still have a chance of making the semifinals but need to rely on other teams such as the Chiefs, Stormers and Hurricanes losing their remaining fixtures.
It’s not the scenario that Dick Muir and his team were banking on after their perfect start to the competition.
Muir stated that his team didn’t want to find themselves in a similar situation to the one that they were in two seasons ago. That year they needed the Bulls to win by fewer than 31 points against the Stormers in the final game of the round-robin stages. They won by 33 and pipped the Sharks into fourth place by virtue of points difference.
At the halfway stage of this year’s competition, they were being talked about as possible home semifinalists, but those days are long gone.
Since then they have gone from second to sixth and are three points behind the fourth-placed Stormers.
One of the reasons for their loss of form, and admittedly this was a concern even when they were winning, was their inability to cross opposition try-lines.
They have scored 191 points in 11 games – an average of just over 17 points per game.
Only the 14th-placed Lions have scored fewer points – 160 to be exact.
That makes for poor reading if you are a Sharks fan. On top of that Johan Muller’s team have earned only one bonus point for scoring four tries or more. This was against the Bulls in Round Three where they scored three tries in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Since then, last year’s finalists have scored just 14 tries in eight matches.
Their tally of 20 tries to date puts them second from bottom in this department. Once again the Lions, with 18, have scored the least. Looking at these stats, their free-fall out of the top four should come as no surprise.
It is indeed mystifying as to why the Sharks have struggled to score tries.
Frans Steyn, Frederic Michalak, Ruan Pienaar, Waylon Murray, Brad Barritt – names synonymous with attacking play, yet they seem to have struggled to gel as a unit this year.
Some would say Dick Muir is yet to find his perfect combination. To date Muir has used Michalak, Steyn, and more recently Pienaar at flyhalf, whilst Steyn has played at No.10, No.12, No.13 and No.15 in 2008. Clearly this is far from ideal. As talented a player as Steyn is, it is highly disruptive to himself and his teammates when he plays in four key positions in one season.
Lets take a peak at the points-scoring list. The Durban-based franchise have nobody inside the top 10. Scrumhalf Rory Kockott is 12th on the standings, having scored 48 points.
The try-scoring list strikes a similar tale. Lelia Masaga tops the pile with seven touchdowns, while Odwa Ndungane, Jacques Botes, Keegan Daniel and Ryan Kankowsi are tied 25th with three tries each.
Interestingly Ndungane is the only backline player amongst that trio, indicating the forward orientated game that the Sharks have undertaken this year.
The Sharks camp were saying in the early stages of the Super 14 that it was only a matter of time before they hit their straps. They have two rounds to hit them!
And they will need to find their try-scoring touch if they are to have any hope of burying the nightmares of 2007.
On a positive note, the Sharks’ defence has been out of the top drawer. In fact their campaign has been built around their resolute tackling. They have conceded just 170 points this season. Only the Crusaders and the Waratahs have conceded less.
If the Sharks want to extend their season beyond the round-robin stages they will need to score at least four tries against the Cheetahs on Saturday, who, incidentally have conceded the most points this season, leaking an astounding 335 points.Tweet