The Sharks found out this weekend, to their detriment, that, when it comes to the game of rugby, grass is a far less forgiving surface than paper. The team will need to turn the demoralising defeat around and take what positives they can in order to quickly get back on the winning track.
Saturday’s game represents a major turning-point in the fortunes of the Sharks, who, up to now, have really had virtually everything go their way in this tournament. A freakish streak of 16 unbeaten games in a row had to come to an end at some stage, sure – but few would have picked a young and unsettled Reds side to deliver the sort of performance that they did on Saturday. That said, the Sharks were so dire at times on Saturday that even the Pretoria Boys High first team would have looked good against them. The intensity was not there – in fact, you’d be forgiven for wondering if certain players might not have been out on the piss the night before. Anyone else notice the way Rory Kockott’s hands were shaking as he prepared to kick? That’s not like the usually cock-sure Rocket…
The injury to Jean Deysel, in hindsight, was a pretty big blow as well. The pack as a whole hardly looked up for the game and the intensity at the breakdowns was well below par. Deysel, had he been there, would certainly have added a little fire and brimstone to an otherwise lacklustre forward effort. Then again, if a pack containing Bismarck du Plessis, John Smit and Johann Muller can’t get any go forward at the tackle point, how much difference could one guy actually have made? No – you can’t look at individuals here. It was a terrible team performance all-round.
I guess, in a way, that makes it easier. There is no possibility of the coach making sweeping personnel changes for the Force game, because, in fairness, he would need to drop the entire team based on Saturday’s disaster. Ruan Pienaar will need to replaced and that, I fear, is a disaster in itself. As much as I want to minimise the regular Steyn-bashing, the youngster is finally starting to look good at inside centre. It really is quite unfair to thrust the flyhalf role upon him yet again and based on (yet another) dog’s breakfast showing at flyhalf for the last 50 minutes on Saturday, I really struggle to see what we would learn from playing him there against the Force.
In hindsight – isn’t it a wonderful thing? – the balance of the tour party is wrong. What sense does it make having an extra three forwards in the squad that never see any game time (Downey, Snyman and Badenhorst) when the only back line replacement not in the 22 (Waylon Murray) is not even fit? Would it not, perhaps, have made more sense to have Len Olivier along from the start? It’s an opportunity wasted, because even if Olivier is already on his way over to Aus (which I hope he is, since I can’t raise him) there’s just no way he’ll arrive in time to be considered for a starting spot this weekend. Had he been on tour already, it would have been a no-brainer to include him.
The other major issue I have is that our first-choice 12 is our backup flyhalf, while it seems our first-choice 13 is our backup 12. I’m all for minimising injury disruptions as far as possible. We have a backline that is working now with Steyn at 12 and Jacobs at 13. If Steyn moves to flyhalf, we then need to move Adi as well and further disrupt the rhythm. Oh, if only we could just rather bring another flyhalf straight in and leave the rest of the lineup unchanged…
Either way, the big challenge for the Sharks this week will be the mental one of moving past the shock loss (and their worst team performance since August 2008) to get back to where they were against the Force. To be honest, I think we all sort of expected a loss somewhere on this tour and it’s a good monkey to get off the back. The team needs to make the decision now, though, as to where they want to go from here. Top spot is still on the cards, but it starts with a victory over the Force.
Go get em, Sharks.Tweet