It’s amazing just how much damage can be done to a side’s ambitions in 80 minutes, isn’t it? In failing to pitch for Saturday’s derby at Coca Cola Park, the Sharks have gone from the position where they could be pushing strongly for SA conference honours the Super Rugby season draws to close, to being dependent on other results going their way to even sneak into the play-offs at all.
Those 4 (or rather 5) dropped log points are now the difference between second on the conference log (and fourth overall) and the Sharks’ current position of seventh, where they are now sure to be stuck in a three-way dog-fight with the Hurricanes and the Reds for the final qualifying spot. Ironically, the Sharks’ upcoming bye is now a distinct disadvantage to them for two reasons; one, it means that they can earn at most 14 points from the last three rounds, while the Reds can manage 15 and two, it means that they can now add at most two to the figure in their “wins” column, which is now more important than points difference. That could prove telling if teams end up on equal points.
Assuming, just for a minute, that the Sharks manage that full complement of 14 points (no small feat, seeing as it means bonus-point wins against the Bulls and Cheetahs in successive weeks) they will still need a number of other results to suit them. Fortunately, the Hurricanes have something of a nightmare run-in, with matches against the Chiefs and Crusaders sandwiching their own bye. The smart money should be on them losing at least one, but quite probably both of those matches, opening the door for the Sharks to move ahead of them. That said, the New Zealand conference has had its share of ups and downs this year and a lot of different permutations could yet play themselves out; hell, even the Crusaders are still vulnerable should they conspire to lose to both the Chiefs and the Hurricanes. In that unlikely scenario, the Sharks could still move ahead of them.
The real challenge, though, comes from the Reds, who are currently only a point behind the Sharks and with three games coming up, can quite foreseeably end up going through ahead of the Durbanites as long as they get maximum points from each fixture. Even if the Sharks do get to 59 log points (their maximum) by the time the Cheetahs game ends, the Reds could already have amassed that same total and would go through by virtue of 11 wins to the Sharks’ 10. Ewan McKenzie’s side play the Rebels away, follows by home games against the Highlanders and the Waratahs and it’s probably the middle game there that Sharks fans will be hoping they lose; in other words, we’re looking to a Kiwi team to do us a huge favour and win in Brisbane. Banking our hopes on the Waratahs to somehow prevent the Reds from picking up a bonus point in the final game is probably not an area we want to be in.
Whatever the case, though, the 2012 season, from a Sharks point of view, really did start to go the shape of a pear on Saturday afternoon at Coca Cola Park and while we’ll obviously always back the boys, it’s probably time for the fans to once again put away their championship hopes and expectations. A Super Rugby title in 2012, for the Sharks, has become a distant, if not completely fanciful, prospect indeed.Tweet