So, what made the difference on Saturday? We had pretty much the same individuals, playing in the same positions. Was it down to a different mindset, or a different gameplan? Or did the backs-against-the-wall nature of the encounter help to force the result?
For the second week in a row, the Sharks forwards put in a really dominant performance. Johann Ackermann really did make a huge difference and I feel we didn’t actually miss Muller much at all in the tight. Lineouts, though, were a different story and I reckon the problems we had here were as much due to Muller not being around to make the calls as they were to Bismarck’s throwing. The latter had his best game in over a month and was close to the pick of the forwards. He would have stood out head and shoulders above all comers had it not been for the unsung hero of the day, one Beast Mtawarira. Oh and then there was that other chap who scored three tries…
Let’s just take a few minutes to reflect on Beast’s achievements, though. The dude truly is an amazing player and is having a remarkable season. Initially picked as a stopgap while Deon Carstens recovered from injury, there’s just no way you could justify picking the Bok over the Zimbo now. His work in the scrums has improved immeasurably and on Saturday he even gave CJ van der Linde a pretty good going over. It’s in the loose, though, where his real value comes to the fore. He is just plain impossible to stop and somehow manages to cross the advantage line every time he gets the ball. This man is going to do great things for the Sharks in years to come!
AJ Venter has had two vastly improved games since returning at blindside flank. The Sharks loosies were outshone on the day by the Cheetahs trio, each of whom is an individual superstar, but I feel that our boys did enough of the donkey work to ensure that our ball stayed our ball. Botes popped up in the right places often enough, but I wouldn’t have picked him as man of the match over Beast. Still, hard to argue with three tries, I suppose. There were really good efforts put in by Steven Sykes and (especially) Jean Deysel once they came on. Sykes is pretty bloody quick for his size and gets around the park a fair bit. I wonder if he isn’t better suited to the role of impact lock, or, dare we even suggest blind side flank? Deysel is a hell of a strong guy and seemed one of the few carriers who didn’t get knocked back by the Cheetahs defenders.
It was in the backs where the real difference was, though and it is here that i believe the attacking mindset made all the difference. For once, there was very little aimless kicking from the halfbacks and Pienaar and Steyn between them sent more good ball down the line than at any other stage this year so far. Jacobs and Pietersen showed some good touches and the latter, in particular, looked sure to break his try drought on about three separate occasions. Odwa was pure class, as always and Stefan Terblanche looked far more solid and far more dangerous, opting to run the ball at times instead of just hoofing back every bit of possession that came his way.
Frans Steyn: now talk about an improved performance. He really did play the inside centre role very well, apart from his totally nitwitted blunder at the conclusion of the first half. He broke the line well, passed like a true veteran and defended well all afternoon. Barritt, though, also looked very sharp when he came on, meaning we still don’t really have a strong idea of who the best man is for this position. If Steyn is allowed to develop at 12 on the form he showed this weekend, though, it would be hard to give it to anyone else.
Whatever the case, the Sharks are back and are looking really good for the semi-finals. Let’s just hope that with a combination of good attacking play and further continuity in selection we can turn around a season that, just a few days ago, was looking decidedly pear-shaped.