I hate to say “I told you so”, but I’m afraid the way that the Sharks shot themselves in the foot against the Blue Bulls at Loftus yesterday bore all the hallmarks of a team that simply isn’t capable of going into a big match as favourites and delivering a performance worthy of that tag. Credit must got to the home side, though, for delivering a rousing display in the second stanza to give their long-suffering fans something to crow about at last.
There was, in hindsight, little between the two sides on paper. Form, however, should have given this one to the Durban team and quite comfortably so. The Sharks, despite a shaky opening period, managed to assert themselves on the game with Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira and Willem Alberts in particular making mincemeat of a clearly inferior Bulls pack. The execution, however, wasn’t as slick as it needed to be for the Sharks and the backs failed to capitalise on the strong work up front. Far too many flat passes were ruled forward, or scoring passes grounded, with the result that despite bossing the set pieces and the break down for nearly 40 minutes, the Sharks were only 11 points up at half time. More importantly, they had only managed two tries and had lost talismanic ball carriers Keegan Daniel and Alberts to injury.
Anybody who has watched a Sharks-Bulls game at Loftus would know what was about to happen next. The Bulls came out snorting in the second half and the Sharks played right into their hands by abandoning the ball-in-hand approach that had helped to turn their season around. Possession – hard enough to win as it was against a resurgent Bulls pack bolstered by the arrival of fresh legs in the likes of Jaco Engels – was booted away willy-nilly and the Bulls were good value for money in whittling away at the Sharks’ slender lead. by the time Jacques-Louis Potgieter had brought them within 6 points, two quick-fire tries by Ruan Snyman and Engels suddenly handed the Bulls the lead, one which was further extended when a promising Sharks movement was snuffed out courtesy of a Wynand Olivier intercept. The blonde centre went over to secure the bonus point for the hosts and even though the Sharks spent the rest of the game attacking, a solitary score by Alistair Hargreaves was all they could muster.
The final score of 40-34 was a pretty good reflection of events – however, the Sharks will rue the chances that were missed in the first half, one where they could realistically have taken a 25-point lead, so dominant were they. In the final analysis, it’s quite possible that the Bulls simply had far too much resting on this game – far more than the Sharks did anyway – for them to lose it, given that a loss here would have gone a long way towards ruling the Pretoria side out of semi-final contention. The Sharks, despite the loss, actually moved one point further ahead of Province on the log, but with some tough games coming up and facing the prospect of losing key front-row resources to national training camps, that 11 or 12-point buffer certainly would have been sweet.
All-in-all, a day the Sharks would rather forget. Let’s hope that John Plumtree and his team can put in the necessary work to correct the problems in time to prevent yet another promising campaign from unravelling at the midway point.Tweet