There seems to be a growing perception, particularly in Durban, that the Sharks may be peaking at just the right time, and they should not be written off to go one better than last year by winning the Vodacom Super 14 trophy.
Whereas up until a week ago it was the Vodacom Stormers who appeared the best South African bet for the Super 14, it is now becoming clear that the Cape franchise’s high tackle count and the injuries to Schalk Burger, Tonderai Chavhanga and particularly JD Moller could count heavily against them if they did get as far as the playoffs.
Gavin Rich writes for Superrugby that the Stormers are still in a better position than the Sharks to grab a semifinal spot, because they have a better points difference (nine) than the Sharks do, which will mean that a Stormers win over the Lions on Saturday will leave the Durbanites needing to score whatever points the Stormers win by plus nine in their match against the Chiefs.
But if the Sharks do get through, they may be in the opposite position to the Stormers in that whereas the Cape team have given it all and maybe raised their game over the past two months, and could be hard pressed to do it again in a semifinal, the Sharks have tended to underperform.
At least that was the case until the past two weeks, when they were unlucky to lose to the Crusaders and then thumped the Cheetahs with a bonus point.
In that latter match they at last started to put their phases together on attack and started to look the potent team that they are on paper. The management may be the key to getting it right, for in some areas, such as loose-forward, they appear to have seen the light when it comes to the make-up of combinations.
The two fetcher combination of Jacques Botes and Keegan Daniel that played together for most of the early part of the competition was too small. Now that the likes of AJ Venter and Jean Deysel are playing at No 7 flank, the Sharks back row has a much better balance to it.
These factors have contributed to a turn-around in the Sharks statistics in their matches which John Plumtree, the Sharks assistant coach and soon to be head coach when Dick Muir moves to the Springboks, has told reporters in Durban could be indicative that his team are about to finish the season in style.
“In our previous two matches against the Crusaders and Cheetahs we made fewer tackles than our opponents, a major contrast to when we lost on tour,” said Plumtree.
“Against the Brumbies and Waratahs we made 50 to 60 tackles more than our opponents. We are never going to win a championship like that.”
Of course, in a round-about way, and without intending it, Plumtree is writing off the chances of the Stormers, who have built their season around a quite outstanding defensive effort. The problem with that is that defence takes a lot more out of a player and a team than attacking, and this aspect may explain why the Stormers appear to have faded so dramatically in the second half of the games in the home phase.
It is a vicious circle in that being forced to defend in the second half one week almost sets up the following week for the same cycle. Sooner or later this sequence is going to catch up with the Stormers, and if it is not in Johannesburg this week, it could well be the case that they are too fatigued to properly contest a semifinal a week later.
The Sharks, by contrast, are in some senses now only starting their season.Tweet