So the Sharks went down to the Stormers on Friday night, to the tune of 29-14. It was a pretty emphatic result, all right, but forgive me if I don’t descend into the deepest pits of despair just yet.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading match reports this weekend and I’m starting to wonder whether the people who wrote them saw the same match that I did. The general consensus seems to be that the Sharks were utterly atrocious and that the Stormers – themselves barely more than adequate on the night – simply had to show up to win by 15 points. The scrums and lineouts were a shambles, they’ll tell you and the Sharks couldn’t get the hang of the new breakdown interpretations. No pace, no penetration and no ideas, was the damning assessment of the Sharks backline.
I say bollocks. Sure, we didn’t win, but given the fact that we played two completely different lineups against an essentially settled, mostly first-choice Stormers combination showing signs of real early-season promise, I really don’t think we did badly at all. The scrums were nowhere near as bad as people will have you believe and in the second half, in particular, we did very well to hold our own despite being down to 14-men for 20 minutes in all. The Stormers had their first-choice front row on and working together for 60 minutes and we mixed and matched and generally stood firm whichever combination happened to be fronting up. Sure, Jannie du Plessis gave away a few penalties for dropping the bind, but perhaps we can cut the big guy some slack, since it was his first competitive game at loosehead? I don’t reckon the Sharks packed down with exactly the same tight five for more than two successive scrums at any stage in the match, so expecting the pack to fire on all cylinders the whole way through is a little unrealistic.
Let me just state, for the record, that the people who claim the Sharks scrum was in reverse the whole match weren’t watching the game. That, to me, just smacks of going in with a preconceived idea and ignoring any evidence to the contrary. I’m not going to pretend that we didn’t look better with Jannie at tighthead than with John Smit there, but I did not see any evidence of Smit being shoved backwards by Wikus Blaauw. If someone else did, I’d love to be shown the video footage, because I don’t believe it exists.
The Sharks pack were great in the first half and pretty good in the second. Weighed up against a near full-strength Stormers 8 coached into a formidable outfit by Matt Proudfoot, I think it was pretty impressive that both of our combinations managed to stand up well. The breakdown was puzzling for both sides and if one thing became crystal clear, it’s that referees are only interested in penalising the defending side in 2010. The Stormers did well to work their way down into the Sharks 22 about 10 minutes into the second half. Once they were there, Craig Joubert’s whistle ensured that they didn’t leave again until shortly before full time. I can’t say I blame John Plumtree for feeling just a little miffed at the way the second half was blown – then again, the Sharks certainly had the better of things in the first half, so there’s obviously a fair bit of soul-searching to be done.
The backs saw precious little good ball in the first half – somewhat ironic given the forwards’ heroics. Rory Kockott wasn’t great as a distributor and Monty Dumond kicked a little too much, while Dries Strauss, while capable on defence, did little to bring those outside him into the game. Pat Lambie was safe as houses at the back (again, don’t believe the match reports out there, because they’ll tell you he looked out of his depth!) but the wingers looked slow and lethargic. Waylon Murray didn’t touch the ball once in 40 minutes, a pretty sure sign that not much was happening for the backs. Charl McLeod and Steve Meyer looked a competent pairing in the second half, though, with the former’s crisp service and the latter’s ability to play right on the gain line sure to be crucial if the Sharks are to rediscover how effective direct rugby can be. The Sharks scored a try early in the second half off a sweeping movement that saw forwards and backs interlinking beautifully – a sure sign that they remain a dangerous outfit when given any sort of space. There’s no doubt that this team has the personnel to play expansive, bonus-point rugby. They just need to rediscover the belief in that sort of game and back themselves to have a go.
The Sharks will be all right in 2010, guys, don’t you worry about that. Considering that we went into this game missing six regular first-choice players and at no stage had what could be called a full-strength combination on the field, we did pretty well to match the high-flying Stormers, at least for the first hour. The Cape side are going to be good this year, but I can’t help wondering if they aren’t playing all their really good rugby just a little too early in the season. There’s not a lot of depth up-front and while the first-choice pack is operating like a well-oiled machine right now, I wonder how good they’d look if one or two first choice players pick up an injury. If there’s one thing we can say about the Sharks, with absolute certainty, it’s that they won’t be peaking too early in 2010! There’s talent aplenty upfront and with guys like Ruan Pienaar and Adi Jacobs yet to make their appearance in the team, we probably shouldn’t read too much into the backline’s flat performances just yet.
There are really two options. We can buy the shit that other sites are writing and accept that our team will be a laughing stock this year, or we can get behind them and back them to do well, knowing that if they can get it right, they have the firepower in the squad to beat most other teams on their day. I know which one I choose.
Black and white, cos nothing else matters.Tweet