The Sharks have shown this season that their new All Black-esque ball-in-hand approach can be more than a match for any team on the day. The challenge in the final is a little different, though and they will need to ensure that their execution is flawless and their discipline superb in order to win the trophy on Saturday.
Looking back at the semi-final victory over the Bulls, the Sharks dominated possession for most of the game and that ultimately snuffed out the visitors’ challenge. Worryingly, though, a number of breakdown penalties were conceded in the closing quarter of the game. Were it not for a pair of uncharacteristic Victor Matfield brain farts, those penalties could well have seen the Bulls steal a match they should never have been in, had Morne Steyn only been allowed to kick at goal. The team needs to learn from this and make damn sure that scenario does not play out again in the final; in Willem de Waal, Province have a kicker that WILL punish indiscretions anywhere within 60 metres of the goal posts and you can be sure that Schalk Burger will instruct him to take any points on offer.
Problem is, the “play-off” variation of the Sharks’ game plan necessarily requires a huge number of rucks, as the players have clearly been instructed to go to ground rather than risk a 50-50 offload in the tackle. Every single breakdown, as we’ve seen, usually presents the referee with at least 5 legitimate excuses to blow his whistle and award a penalty to either side, such is the leeway and inconsistency in the game’s laws. John Plumtree is already attempting to mitigate this – or at least ensure that rulings go in the Sharks’ favour – by accusing Province of illegal ruck tactics ahead of the game. Referee Craig Joubert penalised the Stormers mercilessly for this sort of thing in the recent Super 14 final and Plumtree will hope that their alter ego, Western Province, will receive much the same treatment from Joubert this time around.
The Sharks need to keep their noses clean, though and ensure that players arriving at the breakdown stay on their feet and ruck over the ball legitimately. There was a fair bit of diving in that happened against the Bulls, which wasn’t always penalised by Marius Jonker. I doubt the side will get off so lightly again. The other big concern is that the Sharks front row – in particular Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis – have a propensity to give away silly penalties. Jannie gets done for diving in and sealing off the ball, while Bismarck seems to be less picky about what he gets involved in. Let’s just say that he’s never one to turn the other cheek…
Now, if I were a coach, I’d be tossing and turning about this one, because if there’s one area where the Sharks would appear to have clear ascendancy – on paper at least – it’s in the front row. Plumtree will want the du Plessis brothers to go all out to ensure that the Province tight five is utterly annihilated, both in the scrums and also at the breakdown. While both players soldiered on for 80 minutes in the semi, Plumtree must use them more intelligently this time around and ask both players to go all out for an hour, before bringing on Eugene van Staden and Craig Burden. The latter, in particular, apart from his game-breaking ability, is a real miser when it comes to conceding penalties and I, for one, would far rather have a fresh Burden on the field in those vital last minutes than a tired Bismarck, whose discipline may then start to slip.
One thing is for sure, though. It’s not really about individuals. For the Sharks – and the pack in particular – discipline and technique at the point of breakdown is something that the ENTIRE team will need to have at the forefront of their minds for the full 80 minutes.Tweet