I’m not all that sure why I’m so upset about the Sharks’ performance last night, since I did, after all, predict it and knew we were on a hiding to nothing. In fact, I’ve been banging on about it all week. I guess it’s because we flattered to deceive in the first half, before turning belly up and being flattened in the second.
Perhaps it’s the bittersweet taste of vindication after virtually all of the guys who I maintained should not have been picked in the first place, turned in the sorts of performances to remove all doubt as to their lack of the required talent to perform at this level. As an exercise in assessing depth, it was a non-event because all we did was prove to ourselves, yet again, that certain of the “next rung” do not have what it takes. We already knew this based on the Super 14.
There were, to my mind a few small positives, in the way that certain individuals showed glimpses of promise. These were few and far between, though and the inability of the team, as a unit, to accomplish anything meaningful whatsoever with ball in hand was the thing that caused me the most concern and makes me very apprehensive about the upcoming Currie Cup season.
The tight five did well – in fact, given the quality of the opposition, I think they did superbly – at least for the first half of the match, up until the point that they became so tired that they just couldn’t give any more. Skipper Badenhorst again showed that, even at 31 years of age, he is incapable of mastering a simple lineout throw. The loose forwards as a unit were a failure, with only Jean Deysel putting in a performance worthy of praise. The big unit not only shouldered all the defensive work on his own, but also took on the role of primary breakdown contester and caused the Lions problems all night. I didn’t see either Botes or Daniel do anything of the sort.
The backs were, quite simply, shocking. The major issue was lack of a genuine playmaker anywhere in the attacking axis, coupled with the fact that Rory Kockott (perhaps mindful of this fact) is determined to everything on his own, all the time. Who ever heard of a scrumhalf who refuses to pass? Monty Dumond has neither the required decision-making skills, nor the necessary technical skills, to be a flyhalf at this level of the game – which makes it all the more baffling that he was selected for this game, because we already knew that! The centres got no good ball, but were nevertheless slow and pedestrian while the wings, both of whom tried hard, never really got into the game. Chris Jordaan was again shown up alarmingly on defence, while Stefan Terblanche seems to have added “blindly run into contact and lose the ball” to his arsenal of dodgy counter-attacking options.
So it was all a disaster and the fact remains that we still have gaping holes in the squad at 2, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15. We wasted a golden opportunity to see some of our own Academy-developed talent run in these positions against quality opposition, so once again, it will be a Currie Cup (and, I fear, another Super 14) of at best experimentation and at worst, panic, when injury strikes a key player.
For what it’s worth, here are my ratings of the Sharks match 22:
1 Carstens : 7. The whole tight five (bar Skipper) fares quite well because of how they stood up to the Lions. I still want Deon to play a more active leadership role in the team, which he didn’t do. Basics were fine and he was quite busy around the field.
2 Badenhorst : 3. Lineouts were an absolute shambles, as always. Would get a lower score if he hadn’t been impressive in the scrum and in the maul.
3 du Plessis: 6. Had a pretty menacing day in the front row and covered his basics well. Gave Gethin Jenkins a bit of a hard time, by means both fair and (mostly) foul.
4 Sykes: 7. Worked like a Trojan throughout and was huge defensively. Steven is having a hell of a year.
5 Muller: 6. Did massive work in the tight and on defence. Again, though, his leadership skills seemed lacking.
6 Botes: 5. Started off busy and industrious as always but the hard work in the tight started to take its toll and he lost impetus. Fell off a few important tackles and failed to make an impact with ball in hand.
7 Deysel: 8. A superb game all-round from one of the real stars in the team. He is strong, he has a huge workrate, tackles like a demon and has superb technique in all that he does. Wolla for president.
8 Daniel: 4. Far too small to play number 8 against a side like the Lions. He made no ground whatsoever with ball in hand and was generally a liability in a pack that otherwise worked very well. Discipline is still a major issue as he collected yet another yellow card for a petulant trip.
9 Kockott: 5. We were looking to Rory to dictate the flow of the game and he didn’t. As always, he wasted all the good ball by being selfish, while shovelling the bad ball on willy-nilly to Dumond. A forgettable evening from a player who is better than his current form.
10 Dumond: 3. Looked clueless throughout. Created nothing all night, simply holding the ball for a little before passing it out to whomever else was nearest. Doesn’t even seem to have a kicking game of note.
11 Vulindlu: 6. A busy game from Zuks who tried his best to get into the game, yet was ultimately thwarted. He was good on defence, putting in some big hits and always looked willing to try something – to try and beat his man. This boy will be a star and MUST start at 13 in the Currie Cup.
12 Swanepoel: N/A: Swannie wasn’t on the field long enough to rate. Hope his injury isn’t too serious.
13 Strauss: 4. Lovely guy, but a carthorse. We’ve known this all along. He is too slow to make it as a 12 at Super Rugby level, so what the Sharks are doing playing him at 13, I cannot even begin to fathom. A strong tackler and a good communicator, but precious little else.
14. Chris Jordaan: 3. Woeful on defence – more worrying was that he looked scared. Again, a lovely guy but not big and fierce enough to make it as a top winger. We need to give somebody else a go.
15. Terblanche: 4. As always, defensively solid but offered nothing on attack. When counter-attacking from deep, he always looks to take the contact, rather than offloading. I cannot fathom why.
16 Burden: 7. Craig always tries to make something happen on the field. His workrate and skills are right up there and he has the best of attitudes. He NEEDS to play more to establish synergy with the rest of the pack, especially in the lineouts. Currie Cup 2009 is the right time to establish Burden at the first-choice hooker.
17 Cilliers: 5. Pat had a so-so match. He was all right in the scrum, without being great, and prominent in the loose, again without being superb. He seems to have lost that freakish speed and step that he had before his knee injuries, which is a shame.
18 van den Berg: 5. Big Al is always going to be anonymous in a tight game. Joe Snyman would have been a more sensible option.
19 Rhodes: N/A. Again, Mike wasn’t given enough of an opportunity to get into the game which is frankly criminal, given that (I would have thought) one of the main issues that needs solving is the depth at blindside. So why bother picking this guy if you’re only going to give him an 8-minute run right the end? How did he end up above Downey in the pecking order anyway?
20 McLeod: 6. I like Charl. He’s a traditional scrummy – communicative, quick thinking and above all, a team player. He did well.
21 Cronje: 7. What a brave kid. He tackles like a demon given his size and he, unlike Monty, actually looks to make stuff happen when he has the ball. Loved the Butch-esque passes!
22 Mvovo: 8. Together with Deysel, my standout player of the night. Lwazi is strong, quick and eager and has the right attitude. He needs to be a starting wing option in the Currie Cup, yet I fear he will rather be shipped off to play for some or other emerging sevens side.