I guess this article could easily have been called “pride comes before a fall”. That’s right, I’ll admit it. I underestimated the Lions and was pretty darn arrogant in the lead-up to Saturday’s match. Called a win by 15 points, as you may recall. Oops!
Well, as it turned out, the Lions, by means both foul and fair, walked away with the points and John Mitchell, for the first time in quite a while, managed to get his mitts on the famed Hawera Cup. The home side played their hearts out and on the balance of probability, deserved to sneak home, regardless of how many dodgy tries were scored in the process! They’re a fine side, these Lions and we need to give them their due. Under Mitchell, the days when opposing teams can routinely expect to bag a victory – or even five points – in Johannesburg would appear to be over. Good work, Lions, but you’re still a few points shy of where you need to be. Perhaps, if you can make it through, we may get another crack at you in the semi. That one won’t be Johannesburg, though, you can count on it.
What about the Sharks, though? Pretty simply put, they were rubbish. Far too many influential players, including regular stars like Willem Alberts, Pat Lambie, Ryan Kankowski and Craig Burden, were simply not there and the result was palpable. Exactly the same malaise that affected the team against the Blue Bulls in Pretoria a few weeks ago was back in evidence and the Sharks’ inability to build up a sizeable lead in the first half – despite enjoying 70%+ possession – ended up costing them dearly as the Highveld took its toll in the second period. It’s a problem and it’s something that the team need to work on if they want to… no wait, hang on. We’re not playing any more games on the Highveld this Currie Cup. And that’s kind of the point of this article.
I’ve seen a lot of negative moaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth among Sharks fans ever since the final whistle blew last night, coupled with the usual garbage from the Western Province press cabal about how the Sharks are now “imploding” and their season is “all but over”. All of that, as far as I’m concerned, is utter bullshit and it’s time that Sharks fans stop being selfish prima donnas for a little bit and just look at the facts of the situation.
Point 1 is that we lost an away game, in the Currie Cup, against another top 5 team in good form. That’s ok… in fact, it should probably be expected. The Cheetahs also lost to the Lions away, so did Western Province. Province, as you may recall, got smacked by 20 points at Coke Park. We went down there, played utter shit for most of the match and only lost out to a dubious try in injury time. We chucked away three clear tries and at least 10 other points in missed kicks. Could have been a different game if one bounce had gone the other way. Point 2 is that despite now having exactly the same win-loss ratio as Province, we are a full game’s worth of points ahead of them on the log. All Super 14 long we bitched and moaned about the Sharks not scoring bonus points. We have now picked up 11 of them in 12 games. Maybe, just maybe, we could stop moaning long enough to appreciate that fact.
Let’s move on to point 3. We have to beat the Leopards, with a bonus point, to ensure that we finish no lower than second. We are, by the way, the only team that is guaranteed a semi-final spot with two rounds left to play. Put yourself in the shoes of a Province supporter. They might be in pretty good form at the moment (when they’re not conceding 5 tries in 40 minutes to Griquas), but they have the worst possible run up to the semis, with the Bulls away and the Sharks at home. They need to beat both teams, on successive weekends, with a bonus point, to ensure top spot. In fact, it’s worse than that, because even if they do get a bonus point against the Sharks, they need to ensure that we don’t get 2 bonus points ourselves out of that game. Now I know a lot of (supposed) Sharks fans have already written off our chances of beating Province at Newlands because they will supposedly be at full strength again. Memories are short, though, since the Sharks handled a full-strength Stormers side quite comfortably in the Super 14. Anyway ,I digress a little, but the point is, anyone who feels that Province now have top spot completely sewn up as a result of the Sharks loss is getting ahead of themselves. Sure, we’ve given them a sniff (and more of a sniff than I’d have liked), but it’s not like we’ve handed it to them on a plate.
There’s a fourth point here – one which I feel is pretty crucial. I’ve noticed a pretty interesting pattern over the last few weeks, with the big teams paying each other, often back to back. These derbies are played with furious intensity and I think we shouldn’t underestimate the toll – both physical and mental – that is taken on the players each week. The Cheetahs got themselves up for a huge home derby against the Bulls, which they only narrowly won. They were finished by the time they got to Durban the next week and couldn’t pull off another win. The Sharks, though, played their guts out in that performance and were then flat against the Lions. After not managing to beat the Cheetahs, the Bulls got themselves up against the Lions. The Lions had enough left in the tank to take the Sharks. There’s a real pattern developing here, with none of the big teams able to pull off two successive victories over big five opposition. Those in between matches against the minnows seem to create a much-needed chance to recharge, which is exactly the reason the Cheetahs should probably take the Lions this coming weekend. Province and the Bulls will both be rested before they take on each other, but if Province do manage to win that game, they’ll need to find huge reserves in order to lift themselves again the following week against the Sharks. The latter, we must emphasise, should be coming off a far easier game against the Leopards.
I guess what I’m saying here is: Don’t Panic, Sharks fans! We were all very keen for a win against the Lions, but in hindsight, we took them too lightly and it wasn’t to be. We are still well on top, in the driving seat and our destiny is in our own hands. Let’s just concentrate on that, take what positives we can and move on. Now is not the time to start picking the team apart. Remember, support is about being their through good times and bad and you simply can’t win every game. I’d far rather lose to the Lions in an ultimately meaningless round robin fixture, than cruise to the top of the table and lose in the semi…Tweet