The Sharks managed yet another nail-biting win in the Super 14 when they beat the Reds 30-28 in Durban last night. Having won their last two games in New Zealand, John Plumtree’s side are starting to find their way again and, perhaps most importantly, are now starting to close out the close games.
Don’t get me wrong – this is far from a team playing vintage rugby. The deficiencies both on attack and defence are still glaring, but whereas in the first five rounds, the side simply couldn’t manage to eke out any sort of win, the momentum has now shifted and while the games are still going down to the wire, for the last three weeks the Sharks have found a new composure and have found themselves on the right side of the scoreline come fulltime.
The most palpable improvement has been in the play of the forwards, both in the set pieces and at the breakdown. The scrum has been a different matter entirely since moving John Smit to loosehead and Bismarck du Plessis is clearly a far happier player, if his attention to the basics is anything to go on. Alistair Hargreaves, in the last two weeks, has come to the fore as a dominant lineout forward and the rolling maul, the mainstay of Sharks sides of old, is again becoming a powerful weapon with Jacques Botes’ overall form improving steadily as he grows in confidence at the back of those drives.
In fact, every one of the Sharks heavies was superb yesterday, with Hargreaves, Smit, Botes and Alberts the cleat standouts. Deysel, Sykes and the du Plessis brothers were almost as prominent, while even the Beast has started to find his spark again, putting in a few of his trademark charges. Ruan Pienaar, happy again at scrumhalf, is clearly revelling in the surfeit of quality ball his pack is providing, but I’m afraid that one needs to count quite quickly up to fifteen before you’ll find another Sharks back who’s playing well at the moment.
Outside of Patrick Lambie, whose performances in the last three weeks simply supersede and adjective I could think of, the Sharks backs have been somewhere between ordinary and downright woeful. Midfield defence is non-existent and those in the know would point to Andy Goode’s seeming inability to effect any sort of a tackle as the source of the problem. Riaan Swanepoel looks hopelessly out of sorts and short on confidence and should perhaps be spending time in a lower league side to get is game sorted out. Stefan Terblanche, bless him, is trying to play the kicking fullback role from whatever position he finds himself in, while the wings simply look disinterested. To be fair, though, Odwa Ndungane was streets ahead of JP Pietersen on yesterday’s performance, but neither is currently delivering the sort of showing worthy of his lofty reputation.
In short, the Sharks packs are playing superb rugby and if they keep going (and can avoid further injuries) could soon establish themselves as the best forward unit in the competition. If only they had a backline to do them justice!
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The team goes into their bye week in reasonably good shape, with only Ryan Kankowski a serious injury doubt. Both John Smit and Alistair Hargreaves came off with niggles, but the rangy number 8 spent the night in hospital after an operation to repair a compound dislocation of a finger. Ever the optimist, Hoff reckons he’ll be back in 3 weeks’ time, but the coach seemed a little more circumspect, predicting the player would not see action again this Super 14.
So well done on the win, Sharks and enjoy some much-needed time off. The pack can give themselves a proper pat on the back, but the backline really needs to go back to the drawing board. Let’s hope they can get it right in time to face the Lions two weeks from now.Tweet