I’m starting to run out of superlatives here, after yet another seriously good Sharks victory this weekend.
To me, the major difference here is all about game plan and tactics and it is truly amazing to see pretty much the same bunch of players that stuttered and stalled in the Super 14 playing such a thrilling (and, more importantly, winning) brand of rugby in the Currie Cup.
Far too often in the past we’ve seen Sharks teams prepared to kick hard-win possession away and rather let the opposition do all the playing. With a strong defensive formation, coupled with game breakers who could pounce on opposition mistakes, this strategy often worked. The reality is, though, that defending makes you tired and increases the likelihood of injury. With the new laws benefiting the team with ball in hand the Sharks seem to have discovered that possession is sacrosanct. What’s more, they’ve become quite scarily good at hanging onto it.
To my mind, the most pleasing thing about the win against Western Province on Saturday was the way the Sharks used their superior pack and surfeit of ball to end the game as a contest, despite the visitors’ solid defence limiting them to two tries on the night. Stefan Terblanche and John Plumtree need to take the credit here for the manner in which the team strangled the life out of Province through retaining possession, applying relentless pressure and – most importantly – building a mountain for Province to climb by taking any points on offer. Ryan Kankowski’s superb score may have swung the game in the Sharks’ favour, but it was Lambie and Terblanche’s contributions with the boot that nailed the lid down.
The late try to Nick Koster was an unfortunate blight on an otherwise exemplary defensive performance and it is key to note that the Sharks, before that score, hadn’t conceded one in over 220 minutes of rugby. They’ve conceded only two tries in the last three games, while scoring 14, a clear indication of a side that has both attack and defence properly configured.
Of course, it’s far too early to get properly carried away here, but with the Sharks in this sort of awesome form, is it completely premature to start looking at the by now rapidly-shortening odds on them retaking the Currie Cup from the Blue Bulls? Managing the expectations of a squad in which virtually every player is performing out of his socks is likely to be the biggest obstacle between Plumtree and that prize.Tweet