I’ve allowed myself to become very negative about the Sharks’ chances against the Blue Bulls this weekend, mostly on the back of an alarmingly poor second-half showing by the Sharks forwards in Kimberley last weekend. In hindsight, I’m perhaps being a little harsh in that assessment and overlooking some pretty enterprising play by the Sharks in the first half.
The Sharks pack was beaten at the breakdown by Griquas – of that there is no doubt. We’ve seen this sort of thing happen countless times in the past and perhaps no surprisingly, it always seems to happen when we have Jacques Botes and Keegan Daniel playing together in the back row. I’ve done an analysis of the games the Sharks have played over the last few years and the evidence is quite clear; when playing such a light back row against a heavy pack of forwards, the Sharks invariably lose. The first time it was tried was against the Cheetahs in the 2007 Currie Cup. The Sharks lead at half time, but went on to lose the game 22-42 after falling apart in the second half. The same combination featured in the 2008 Super 14 losses to the Brumbies and the Waratahs. On both occasions, the Sharks lead handsomely at half time, only to lose, thanks to tries conceded off turnover ball in the second half. It seems to me that when they start with such a quick, light loose trio, they generally get off to a fast start. As the game progresses, though, the forwards tire rapidly, making it increasingly difficult to hit rucks and secure the ball.
John Plumtree admitted in the press this week that his charges were tired against Griquas – perhaps this is why.
There’s a silver lining here, though and I’m not talking about the expected return of the 230kg wrecking-ball of the Deysel-Alberts combination next week. Having run the rule over the Bulls pack that will face the Sharks on Saturday, the shocking reality is that they are not bigger than the Sharks – in fact, on average, they weigh slightly less.
It’s the front row where things are he most unbalanced, with the behemoth Dean Greyling (122kg) at looshead and hooker Gary Botha (108kg) outweigh their Sharks counterparts Pat Cilliers (108kg) and Craig Burden (100kg) quite substantially. Wiehahn Hebst and Werner Kruger, the tightheads, are pretty even, with the Bulls man weighing a kilogram heavier. The Sharks, though, have clear dominance in the second row, with Steven Sykes and Alistair Hargreaves adding a hefty 232kg to the pack weight between them. Fudge Mabetha and Wilhelm Steenkamp are relative lightweights by comparison, at 102 and 105kg respectively. The combined tight five weights end up being remarkably similar, with the Sharks just edging the contest by 554kg to 552.
It’s in the back row, though, that the statistics may well start to become meaningful, thanks in no small part to the beefy Mike Rhodes at blindside flank. With the Bulls boasting three smaller loose forwards, with the 102kg Gerrit-Jan van Veltze the biggest of the lot, even Keegan Daniel’s paltry-seeming 94kg isn’t enough tip the scales the Bulls’ way. Jacques Botes and Derick Kuun are exactly the same weight, but Rhodes’s 14 kg advantage over Deon Stegmann have a 7kg advantage in the loose forwards and shade the overall pack weight contest by 860kg to 851.
Now I know I’ve taken a lot of inches to effectively say only one thing, but I think that it is an important thing. The Daniel-Botes combination can only work when the pack as a whole isn’t outweighed. The Bulls have played right into the Sharks hands here by picking a second and third row that is probably the smallest they have fielded in years. The Sharks locks, together with Rhodes, are going to have to literally work their asses off to ensure that the weight advantage they bring is used to maximum effectiveness at as many breakdown points as possible. If they do manage to secure the collisions, though, my prediction is that Charl McLeod, Steve Meyer and Pat Lambie between them will run the Bulls to pieces off the resulting front-foot ball.
It’s by no means a certain thing, but if I were a betting man, my money would be on the Sharks this weekend.Tweet