While all and sundry are talking up the Sharks’ chances of strolling to a third Currie Cup title in five years, I must admit that I’m a little more circumspect about their prospects, given the showing in the first two rounds.
Don’t get me wrong here – I’m pleased as punch that the team is unbeaten and chuffed as cheese that they’re sitting pretty at the summit of the log – but to claim that they are playing with anything approaching the panache that typified their late season efforts in Super Rugby would be stretching the truth more than a little. The Sharks have been well off their best in the first two games and while it’s natural to look at a huge loss of playing personnel in-between the Super Rugby Final and the Currie Cup kick-off a week later as justification for this, there are still enough experienced men left over and the Sharks, bizarrely, actually appear to have one of the stronger Currie Cup playing squads this season, despite national call-ups and injury.
The slump, it must be said, has come at forward, with the team losing the scrumming battle quite comprehensively against both WP and the Lions and looking more than a little shaky in the lineouts and at the breakdown too. While referee Louwrens van der Merwe had a fair bit to do with the shambles in Cape Town, one can hardly blame last week’s up-front malaise on anyone other than the Sharks pack themselves and the time has now come for the men wearing the little numbers to step up and show their class.
Ignore all this talk about the Bulls being decimated by flu during the week. They have named a grizzled pack of forwards to take on the Sharks, with the match-up between veteran hooker Willie Wepener in the blue corner and untried youngster Monde Hadebe in the other, looking particularly one-sided. Sharks props Chadwick and Herbst have looked worse than we know they are in the opening rounds as well and with Steven Sykes and (to a lesser extent) Anton Bresler also far from imposing against the Lions, one has to concede that on current form, the all-important tight-five battle looks like it’s already been decided in favour of the home side.
The Sharks, though, have plenty of aces stashed in all sorts of other places, with flankers Kleinhans and Deysel, in particular, in sublime form. The likes of Viljoen, Jordaan, Sithole and Ludik in the backline also appear to have just a little bit more to offer than their opposite numbers, but it’s about time the Sharks forwards started to give these men a proper platform from which to launch, rather than the scraps of turnover ball that has been their lot to date.
It’s time, in other words, for the next-best Sharks pack – and the front-row in particular – to play to their potential. Do that, and another memorable Loftus triumph awaits. More of the same, though, and the unbeaten record ends this weekend.Tweet