Some days you’re the pigeon and other days you’re the statue, as the old saying goes and Rob du Preez will have felt very much like the latter on Saturday night as his highly- fancied Sharks outfit produced enough guano to cover even the ancient Colossus of Rhodes.
It’s, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon at all to see the Sharks struggle to record even a regulation victory against foes who, on paper, should not be able to live with them. This is the unfortunate “Mr Hyde” to a team that has been mostly Dr Jekyll so far this season and du Preez will, at least, better understand the scale of the challenge face by his coaching team if they are develop this Sharks outfit into one capable of delivering the sort of consistency that the coach would have been used to from his days as a player in Durban.
Things started well enough in Durban, but then started to go wrong almost immediately. An early scrum, which saw Thomas du Toit totally annihilate opposite number Ross Geldenhuys, resulted in a penalty right in front, one which Curwin Bosch immediately turned into three points. Strong Kings pressure at each breakdown, coupled with some truly amateur handling and decision-making from the Sharks conspired to ensure that no further progress was made and it was, in fact, the visitors who scored the first try at the end of the first quarter. A regulation Kings hoof downfield was picked up by Benhard Janse van Rensburg in the Sharks 22, but rather than making a regulation clearance, the young man opted to run the ball back into the traffic before launching a kick that was charged down. Kings number 8 Ruaan Lerm pounced for the simplest of tries and the Sharks were suddenly 3-7 down at home.
Plenty of huffing and puffing (and a yellow card to Geldenhuys) later and the Sharks did manage to drive Lourens Adriaanse over for his maiden try at this level (in his 80th appearance), but any joy at wresting back the advantage was to be short-lived; a rather stupid pass form Ruan Botha just outside the Sharks’ 22 intercepted by diminutive Kings flier Makazole Mapimpi for another simple score. The disbelief was palpable as a shaken Sharks outfit tramped off minutes later, facing the reality of an 8-14 half time deficit. This, after all, was meant to be the week where we enjoyed the combination of rest for some big names, along with an easy bonus point.
A brief period of ascendancy after the break saw Bosch nail another penalty to narrow the gap, but with the Sharks unable to retain the ball in contact, the initiative was handed back to the visitors time and again. Lionel Cronje restored the six-point gap with a penalty of his own in the 47th minute, but it was only one du Preez had pushed the panic button and introduced Michael Claassens and Garth April to replace his comical starting halfbacks that the Sharks managed to inject just a little bit of urgency and composure into their play. It was April who produced a moment of almost magic with a long pass that found Kobus van Wyk in space out wide. The winger needed no second invitation to score his second try in as many weeks and with Kings scavenger Chris Cloete yellow carded in the same movement, the Sharks now looked poised to finish off, despite Bosch’s missed conversion meaning they still trailed by a point.
In the end, it came down to a pair of penalties. Bosch lined up a long, but straight one from just outside the Kings half with five or so minutes left and duly sent it over to hand the Sharks a two-point cushion. Cronje had the opportunity to seal a win for his side minutes later, but unfortunately missed from a similar distance, but wider angle.
19-17 was the final score and the only bonus point in sight went to the Kings, not the Sharks. Du Preez and his team will feel disappointed in virtually everything that they did bar one thing: to play this badly and win the game must tell you something, I suppose. A big week looms for the Sharks after this performance. Let’s see what they can do to turn this around.
Sharks (19): Tries Lourens Adriaanse, Kobus van Wyk. Penalties Curwin Bosch (3)
Kings (17): Tries Ruaan Lerm, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions Lionel Cronje(2). Penalty Cronje.