Vodacom Super 14
Sharks stumbling block?
John Smit and Bismarck du Plessis (File)
Durban - There is a Shark alert out for the Bulls and the Stormers – and the two South African Super 14 high flyers must take it seriously if the coming derby matches are not to derail their challenge.
The Sharks, after losing their first five games, have completely turned around their season, with Saturday’s impressive 23-10 win over the Blues thoroughly vindicating the theory that winning has started to become as much of a habit for the Durbanites as losing was for them earlier in the year.
Back in February and March, the Sharks were down on confidence and they did not always look or play like a united team. They came close in some games, but luck conspired against them, and they learned the truth behind the old saying that you have to make your own luck.
They also did not play particularly intelligent rugby in those first five games, and were punished for it.
However, it was felt that one win, thus showing them that they could indeed still get over the line and win, could change their season, and that is what has happened after their win over the Highlanders in Dunedin in their second last tour match.
Since then they have beaten the Hurricanes away, the Reds at home, the Lions away and now the Blues at home. Apart from continuing the South African dominance (from the top three local teams) against New Zealand sides, it looks in retrospect that the Sharks might also have done the other sides a massive favour with that narrow win over the Reds on Easter Saturday.
But while South African fans would have been enjoying the Sharks resurgence, there should always have been the nagging feeling that the Sharks running into form in the second half of the competition could prove a stumbling block for the Bulls and Stormers. The Bulls face the Sharks in Pretoria this coming weekend, and the Stormers go to Durban the week after.
And the bad news for those two teams is that there is no sign from Durban that the Sharks want to let up now that their failure to secure a bonus point win against the Blues has all but ruled them out of semifinal contention.
In the years of Super 14 rugby 41 log points has been the minimum requirement to qualify for the semifinals, and even if the Sharks get a full house of five log points in their three remaining games, that will only be enough to take them to 40.
The attitude from the Sharks though is that “you never know what might happen”, and anyway they appear to really enjoy being on the winning side again after their struggles from earlier in the year.
Against the Blues they sounded a warning to future opponents with a strong showing from the pack and a pragmatic approach that set up a massive territorial advantage that they didn’t always take full advantage of.
Some might criticise them for not carrying the ball enough against the Blues, but the early high ball bombs launched onto the Blues played a big role in setting up the momentum that the Sharks never relinquished except for a 20 minute period in the first half where some tackles were slipped and the Blues took a 10-3 lead.
Bismarck du Plessis appears to be returning to his best at just the right time, John Smit appears to have found a comfortable home for himself at loosehead prop, and you could say the same about Stefan Terblanche’s switch to outside centre.
But perhaps the best of them has been a man who, rather than having been moved to a new position is instead returning to his old one. With each week Ruan Pienaar starts looking more like the top scrumhalf he was before the national selectors decided to play musical chairs with him by converting him into a flyhalf and fullback.