To say that the Sharks really couldn’t afford a home loss to start off their campaign would certainly be a contender for “understatement of the month”. In a game that never reached any great heights, thanks in no small part to both the rain and the referee, the home side paid the price for shocking discipline and a worrying failure to create any scoring opportunities.
It was never going to be a day for running rugby, thanks to sweltering heat, oppressive humidity and steady rain that fell throughout. Add to that the somewhat vague-seeming interpretations of rookie blower Keith Brown and it was always going to be a stop-start affair. Although most of the referee’s calls seemed technically correct on closer inspection, he seemed to miss a fair few transgressions and one always felt that no matter what the Chiefs did, he would always rather find a reason to blow against the Sharks.
Let’s just get this out in the open, though. Bismarck du Plessis cost his side the game through being stupid and for a senior member, a Bok veteran, to do something like that is frankly unforgivable. You need to play smart and play to the ref and when you’ve worked out that he’s going to blow you for even looking at him funny, blatant late shoulder charges probably aren’t the best idea. Willem Alberts was lucky not to suffer the same fate a few minutes later.
The Sharks forwards were frustrating in this game. In the first half, they simply didn’t look as though they’d been coached at all. Set pieces were messy or bordering on shambolic at times and if they’d been educated in any way about the new law interpretations ahead of this game, it certainly didn’t show. Rory Kockott and Stefan Terblanche – the only backs to get their hands on the ball virtually all game – both played superbly under the conditions and the tactical kicking approach was the right one to use. If only the forwards could have pitched up for the first half, the Sharks may have been able to capitalise on it!
The anticipated half-time rocket seemed to have an effect on the pack and although only marginally more accurate in the second period, they managed to life their intensity appreciably managed to start dominating the game. Referee Brown was ever-present, however, ready and willing to pick up on any transgression, no matter how minor. After a period of furious defence on the goal line, the team did superbly to claw their way back into Chiefs territory and build up a 9-point buffer. Bismarck’s brain-fart undid all of that, though and despite the heartbreak of Donald’s last-minute winner, one feels that it would have been somewhat of a travesty had the home team walked away with the points in this game. They simply weren’t good enough, committed too many basic mistakes and (most tellingly) had to make do with 14 men for a full quarter of the game.
For the Sharks, there were very impressive defensive performances put in by both Waylon Murray and (particularly) JP Pietersen. The Sharks backs in fact did very well collectively to pressure their counterparts into a stuttering attacking display, but their failure to do anything at all on attack – albeit with hardly any good ball to do it with – remains a worry. Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Sharks, though. With only six home games in total this season, dropping one is nothing other than a mortal blow. More concerning, both Gerhard Mostert and Johann Muller were forced from the park with what looked like serious shoulder injuries and to lose two such key forwards before the campaign has even started could prove telling. The former is a notoriously injury-prone player and we can only hope and pray that he’ll still be able to play some rugby for the Sharks this season.
It’s early days, of course and writing anybody off at this stage of the season is just foolish. The Sharks are going to have to come up with something very different if they hope to beat the Cheetahs on Friday,though and a win in that game has now become absolutely non-negotiable. At least, I can say with conviction, the Sharks are not going to peak too early in 2010!Tweet