The Sharks lost Friday night’s game everywhere but on the scoreboard and for this amateur enthusiast, the time has come to say, “enough is enough”.
I’ve fallen into bad habits. Maybe it’s a case of wanting to believe the hype, despite my better judgments. Perhaps, it’s because I try to be a positive person in the hope that others will follow suit. The fact is, though, that I’m now tired of my team winning ugly when it doesn’t matter and not winning at all when it does. No longer will I accept the meaningless platitudes of “well, if we can play that badly and still win, there must be something very special about this team.” It’s utter bollocks and it ain’t gonna wash no more. Good teams play good rugby all the time. What’s more, good teams win trophies.
The team that Western Province put onto the park shouldn’t have come within 20 points of the Sharks – at least on paper. That, I fear, is the biggest problem and the reason we had to depend on a last-gasp (and potentially dubious) penalty to avoid an embarrassing draw or loss. We have too many players that are heroes in name only, living off an undeserved reputation when, in fact, they have achieved exactly nothing. We have become a paper team, obsessed with the names and glamour associated with our players. The time has come for those whom we worship to stand up and take accountability for their repeated poor performances.
I’m afraid nobody is going to escape this rant, because I feel that the blame needs to be apportioned equally and indiscriminately. Deon Carstens has been around for years now. Where is the on-field leadership from one of the senior guys in the team? Craig Burden needs to get his lineout work sorted out before he’s fit to wear that famous jersey, which the likes of John Allen and John Smit made famous. It doesn’t matter how good he is in the loose if he can’t get the basics right. Jannie du Plessis has three Currie Cup winner’s medals, for goodness sake. Why does he seem incapable of doing anything other than scrumming? Skipper Badenhorst is just useless. He has no hands whatsoever. I can’t really blame him as much as I blame those who continue to pay him to masquerade as a professional rugby player.
Johann Muller may be a grafter and well respected by his peers, but why doesn’t he pull the team through when it counts? As a captain, he has actually achieved nothing of note and he needs to make a personal commitment to change that. Alistair Hargreaves has been hanging around the fringes for ages now, living on past glories of an under-19 tournament that nobody else can remember anymore. We keep hoping, praying and believing that he’s going to take the step up. When will he? Albert van den Berg remains as useful in a tight game as a battleship in the middle of the Sahara. Another who has been around for almost a decade, yet doesn’t bring the benefit of his experience to bear on the game. It seems he just never learns anything.
Jacques Botes disappears in tight games and is only effective when paired with two really big loose forwards. Steven Sykes is not a flank and needs to realise that. Keegan Daniel is just plain not a forward – certainly not unless he is the only lighter man in the loose trio. Again, the fans have known for years now that we have a soft underbelly in the loose forwards. Botes and Kankowski need a good foil to operate on the blindside. Knowing this, why was AJ Venter allowed to leave without any thought to procuring a replacement? Sure, nobody could have predicted Jean Deysel’s injury, but if he was such a big part of the plans, why the Epi Taione disaster? In fact, is there any planning whatsoever going into player procurement at the Sharks? It doesn’t look like it from where I stand. The Cheetahs have no shortage of loose forwards, yet they were the ones quick enough to snap up the services of Bioplus van der Merwe to plug a short-term hole. Our plan is to pick a lock and two lightweights and just hope for the best.
Brad Barritt needs to find a kicking game if he has any serious intentions of playing flyhalf. He’s a bright guy with good skills and a great brain, but he’s too predictable as a flyhalf and needs to vary his game. Andries Strauss is actually looking quite good, but those outside him were all shocking. Waylon Murray is playing like 103kg of nothing much. All that he is these days, is big. He doesn’t look quick, he doesn’t look dangerous, in fact, all he looks like is a slightly confused flanker trying to operate in the backline. JP Pietersen and Henno Mentz have seemingly lost the ability to score tries and seem to have no answer but to run headlong into contact on the rare occasions that they receive the ball. They create nothing, they don’t threaten on defense; they’re not fit to be mentioned in the same paragraph as the likes of Tony Watson, James Small, or even Cabous van der Westhuizen. Oh shit, I just did.
Stefan Terblanche deserves a paragraph all on his own. I can’t quite fathom what it is that the commentators (or the Sharks management) see in his performance that warrants praise. Sure, he is safe under the high ball, but it’s what he does with the ball after the catch that matters; to my mind, he has been poor ever since the second round of the Super 14. His boot is nowhere near as educated as one would expect it to be, given his long and varied career. He catches and he kicks back, over and over. He never finds touch, he never finds space, he never provides a good target for the wings to chase. All he does is catch and kick, catch and kick, rinse and repeat. In fact, he’s another guy who seems to be living on reputation and being picked based on experience, yet this experience never comes to the aid of his teammates when the chips are down.
The backs are not the real targets of this week’s scorn, though; that dubious honour belongs to the pack. The way that they were collectively bullied off their own ball to the tune of 12 turnovers during the course of the game is a pretty sad indictment on one of the supposed strengths of Natal rugby. It doesn’t matter how good the tight five thinks they are if they don’t commit to the rucks. It doesn’t matter how many yards Craig Burden makes with ball in hand, or how quick and skilful Al Hargreaves is if we’re not securing primary possession at the breakdown or in the lineout. It doesn’t matter how many impressive winger tries Keegan Daniel scores if he doesn’t make life difficult for the opposition at the point of contact. The fact is, the pack, as a whole, were taught a rugby lesson by a bunch of no-namers from Western Province. And it’s only going to get worse when we play against the real big boys of this competition, the Blue Bulls and the Cheetahs.
John Plumtree has inherited a bit of a disaster from Dick Muir; a team chock-full of “flair” but lacking in structure and poor in the execution of the basics. The flair isn’t there this season, though and the deficiencies are becoming glaring. His first hit-out as coach was not a total disaster thanks to Rory Kockott. We, as fans, deserve better and will grow more vocal in the coming months should the new coach fail to deliver real improvements and real results.
And right now, we don’t care about the Super 14; we won’t accept that excuse again. The Currie Cup IS important to us, because we haven’t won ANYTHING in 12 years. Win the Currie Cup this year, Sharks and then we’ll talk about 2009. We’ve stuck by you guys. It’s time to give something back.Tweet