Or should that be, running out of excuses? I reckon John Smit was pretty close to the latter option during the post-match interview on Saturday, after the Sharks had somehow managed to lose their fifth successive Super 14 game of the 2010 season.
Things are pretty bleak in Sharks land, that’s for sure. Saturday’s loss set an unfortunate record – it’s the first time the Sharks have ever lost their 5 opening games in a Super Rugby competition. Going back to last year, they’ve now last 7 games on the trot – in fact, they’ve won only one out of their last 10 starts in this competition, that being a scrappy home win against the Highlanders last year. Hardly the stats of a champion team.
So is there really something “new” that’s wrong with this team? Or is it maybe something old that hasn’t yet been put right and is now manifesting itself far more clearly? Do the Sharks class of 2010 really have what it takes – in terms of personnel (both coaching and playing), attitude, game plan and the like – to be a force in Super Rugby? The clear answer is that they don’t – or if they do, they’re doing a bloody good job of hiding it.
So while Smit and Plumtree battle to find new reasons to explain each loss – and they have to, because they face an angry public eager for something to latch onto – the same old flaws crop up again and again. Protection of the ball at the breakdown; this one has been an Achilles heel for two seasons now. Poorly executed tactical kicks, ditto. Discipline, again a perennial problem in the side. The absence of a settled, confident playmaker at flyhalf, as well as a settled, familiar combination in the centres. Lack of a clear pecking order and plan when it comes to front-row selection and the associated malaise of an unpredictable scrum platform. None of these things are new – they’ve been with us for over a year and the truly worrying thing is that nobody, from the coach down, seems to have the faintest idea about how to fix them.
We can say that the Sharks are literally a whisker away from turning things around and that this weekend’s game could and should have been theirs. You could say the same about the Waratahs game, the Cheetahs game and the Chiefs game. It’s a pretty unforgiving competition, the Super 14 and often the difference between success and failure is very small. The Sharks, to my mind, enjoyed the rub of the green to a disproportionate level in the early stages of 2009 and more often then not found themselves on the right side of the “luck equation” at the end of tight games. That wheel has well and truly turned now, though and the absence of that “16th man” is now exposing the flaws that, in hindsight, were pretty evident in the Sharks team all along.
This is going to get worse before it gets better, I fear. I don’t get the feeling that those in charge have any fresh ideas about how to turn this one around.Tweet