If anything, it’s probably fair to say that opinion amongst Sharks fans is somewhat polarised after Saturday’s 29-22 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
The visitors ran out anything but comfortable winners and were forced to defend their line desperately towards the end, defending the slenderest of margins, yet ultimately managing to deny the Cheetahs a last-minute score to draw the match. While most, I’m sure, will concede that a victory against the Cheetahs, at altitude, was perhaps not a bad result at all for a seriously undercooked side, the fact that the Sharks at one stage held a 26-5 advantage and appeared to have the Cheetahs completely under the cosh heading into the final quarter has many a little worked up.
The inevitable question is this: how do you go from a 21-point lead and a possible bonus point victory, to scrambling desperately on your own line to claw out any sort of win at all on 80 minutes? Even more galling is the fact that he Cheetahs outscored the Sharks by three tries to two in the process, raising, perhaps, some awkward questions ahead of games against better opposition yet to come.
The Sharks management seems to ascribe this to a softer than usual warm-up program that saw the team short on match fitness ahead of the opener. That, I feel, is probably pretty close to the truth, especially given the way the team, collectively, appeared to run out of puff after an hour, after a truly dominant performance in virtually all aspects up to that point. If this is indeed the case, then a run of matches at sea level over the next few weeks should hopefully improve matters. In fact, so benign is the Sharks’ draw this year that it will be 6 July before they next play at any stadium more than 100 metres above sea level, when they travel to Pretoria to take on the Bulls.
The other, far more sinister explanation, is that the self-same mental malaise that sees the Sharks seemingly unable to truly capitalise when faced with an all-but-vanquished opponent, once again reared its head on Saturday. Could it be that little something in their make-up upstairs that prompts them to take their foot off the pedal just slightly when they feel the game is won, rather than flooring it in the interests of racking up the biggest score possible? We’re certainly hoping that this isn’t going to be the case again this year, but those ascribing to this school of thought will never be short of case studies to substantiate their position, when looking back at the Sharks’ recent history.Tweet