Man, but the Sharks did well this weekend. Billed as a top-of-the-table clash, the match against Griquas turned into a real one-sided affair as the home team completely stuffed the Kimberley mob and sent them back to the Big Hole with their tails between their legs.
They say you can’t make a silk purse our of a sow’s ear, but credit must go to John Plumtree and the Sharks coaching staff because, right now, the weakened Sharks are looking a fair bit better than any of the other teams in this year’s competition, even though many of the others are far closer to full strength. The return of a number of key players, Johann Muller and Waylon Murray in particular, have brought a more settled look to the side, but it’s the standout performances of guys like Craig Burden, Lwazi Mvovo and Charl McLeod that are really catching the eye.
Looking at the log as it stands after the first round of matches, the Sharks are three points clear at the top, having lost only once, to Western Province in the Newlands mud in week 1. Province, the Blue Bulls and Griquas are all on 24 log points, and only points difference separates second from fourth. Each of those sides has lost two games, although only Griquas has dropped a home game, in losing to the Bulls. The Bulls and Province have each lost an away game that they would have expected to win, though and will need to make amends in the second half of the competition. Free State and the Lions are now way back and will need to knock over some of the big boys to stand any chance of making the semis.
This weekend sees some big matches coming up. The Sharks take on Province at ABSA Stadium and again, for the Durban crew, it’s a top-of-the-log clash with first place at stake. Province will make the trip without lock Adriaan Fondse and they will do well to repeat the sort of forward dominance they enjoyed against the Sharks in the first round. The Sharks backs, though, are looking mean and hungry at the moment and with Juan Hernández hopefully back in the mix, it would be a brave man who bets against the Sharks making it seven in a row.
The Lions will need to start their clawback by beating the Bulls in Johannesburg. Should they fail, as I fully anticipate they will, the Bulls should be able to consolidate second place, moving ahead of whomever loses in Durban. The Cheetahs will head to Kimberley knowing that they can do their chances a world of good by handing Griquas a big defeat – a win there and they are suddenly within a single win of replacing their neighbours in the top four.
It’s all still wide open, though, with the Bulls scheduled to head to Cape Town in round 9, to further complicate the picture. In that round, the Cheetahs and Lions will face off in Bloemfontein in a match that surely must decide which of them may still advance to the semi-finals, since it’s highly unlikely that both can still go through.
For the Sharks, though, it’s all looking very good indeed and they need to focus on this weekend’s challenge – downing Province in Durban.Tweet