Am I the only one who went, quite quickly, from being simply disappointed to rather alarmed on Friday night? The Sharks pack, admittedly not a full-strength one, should nevertheless have done a far better job of containing – nay, dominating – their Leopards counterparts. Far too often, though, it was the visitors who enjoyed the up-front supremacy.
I’m looking mostly at the second half here, when the Sharks went from a dominant, championship-worth performance to looking a real rag-tag bunch of no-hopers, incapable of stringing together a phase or two against the cellar-dwelling leopards. The malaise all started up-front – particularly at the breakdown, where the Sharks were too often getting isolated and being muscled off the ball at the resulting ruck. Just go read that again for a second – the Sharks were muscled off their own ball by the Leopards! Something very wrong there.
Now, let’s look at the team. Sure, we didn’t start with our first-choice pack, not by any stretch of the imagination. Alistair Hargreaves and Albert van den Berg are too light as a lock combo, while Pat Cilliers and Skipper Badenhorst are themselves the third choices at loosehead prop and hooker respectively. The injury to Jean Deysel has left us scratching our heads (yet again) for suitable backup at blindside, with Mike Rhodes starting his first Currie Cup game in the position. Just to dwell on the youngster for a second, I thought he had an impressive début, or rather, a very good first half. He disappeared along with te rest of the pack in the second stanza and could do little to stem the tide, despite all his bulk.
Let’s not forget, while we’re talking about weakened combinations, that we had three first-choice (or almost first-choice) players coming back into the pack in the second half, with Steven Sykes, Bismarck du Plessis and Deon Carstens all entering the fray. The resulting unit should, on paper, have had more than enough firepower to give the Leopards a proper seeing too and yet, it somehow just didn’t happen. Perhaps the spectre of injury overshadowed the importance of running up a big score in a nothing game. Then again, the Sharks’ lackadaisical performance has now allowed Province to overtake them on points difference, meaning a single lost point from here could be the end of a top place finish for the Durbanites.
The time for experimentation and easing back of players is clearly over, though, as Plumtree no longer has the luxury of rotating players into the team. He needs to settle on his first-choice pack now and give them time to gel ahead of the semifinals. The Sharks engine-room is in dire need of a tuneup and the Lions will hand them a serious test this weekend.Tweet