The Sharks beat the Western force by 27 points to 22 in Durban on Friday night in a match that was fairly typical of their whole season – plenty of promise, but ultimately, very little to write home about.
After spending all of the first ten minutes desperately defending their line, the Sharks then broke out in pretty spectacular fashion, resulting in a debut Super 14 try for left wing Lwazi Mvovo. The old demons of indiscipline and poor technique at the tackle and the breakdown, coupled with Pro Legoete’s somewhat arcane interpretation of whatever laws he believes exists, saw the Force race out to a 12-7 lead, before a strong Sharks scrum (about the only phase of play to really work well all night) saw Ryan Kankowski retake the lead with a superb driving try off the base. (Was that the longest sentence I’ve ever written, by the way?) A third Sharks try, scored in copybook fashion by Jacques Botes off the back of yet another driving maul, saw the home side well-positioned to snag just their second bonus point of the season with about 20 minutes left to play.
Would you believe that the fourth try never came? Course you would, ’cause you’ve been watching the Sharks all season, just like I have. Instead, we had to witness a bizarre bungle virtually on the Force goal-line which, coupled with a string of missed tackles, saw Nick Cummins (contender for stupidest hairdo in the Super 14, for which he admittedly has plenty of strong competition) score at the other end of the field. Once again, a nailbiting last five minutes as the Sharks defended the narrowest of leads. It came off this time. Let’s not forget all the games at the beginning of the season when it didn’t. Those with the rose-coloured glasses on will point to the fact that the Sharks won 7 of their last 8 games, a pretty good sign that nothing is wrong in Oz – I mean Durban.
The reality is, the Sharks ended 9th. That’s three places further down the log than last year, which was in itself a disaster. There has been no progress whatsoever over the last 12 months and I find it particularly galling that there will, this year, again be two SA sides hosting Super 14 semi-finals, but unlike 2007, the Sharks will not be one of them. That’s, of course, not to take anything away from either the Bulls or the Stormers, who have both been superb this year. I wish both teams the best of luck, but who can blame me for feeling just a little bitter and twisted that my beloved team can’t be up there in the place of one of them?
So what did the Sharks actually accomplish this Super 14? The obvious answer is “nothing”, but if we go a little further, we’ll see that once they got over whatever their initial problem was, the pack of forwards actually started to play pretty bloody well and handed out regular hidings to anyone they faced. The Force game was somewhat of a let-down from that perspective, but I believe the loss of Willem Alberts, coupled with the clear reality that the team had peaked the week before, was very much to blame for that. They also very successively blooded two exciting youngsters to Super 14 rugby, in the form of Lwazi Mvovo and Patrick Lambie, with the latter undoubtedly the single biggest success story of the campaign. In the future, I think we too will look back on this campaign as the one in which Alistair Hargreaves finally stood up and accepted his destiny, although I hope I haven’t just jinxed him properly by writing that.
In terms of what has been (or should have been learned), I guess it’s that you can’t win the Super 14 without scoring tries and you can’t score tries without a backline. It also doesn’t help adding extra backline coaches if none of them know what they’re doing and it’s about time Stefan Terblanche retired. Oh – and Jannie du Plessis is actually a pretty damn good tighthead, if you just pick him there and let him play.
So thanks for the entertainment, Sharks, but I fear it’s to the drawing board once more. Let’s see what you can come up with in the Currie Cup. Rest assured, we’ll be there with you 100%, every step of the way.Tweet