Bitter-sweet weekend for Jake
Johannesburg - The first win scored overseas this season by a South African team in Vodacom Super Rugby was something for him to crow about, but it was a bitter-sweet weekend for Cell C Sharks director of rugby Jake White.
According to the supersport.com website, if Frans Steyn is widely acknowledged as the player the Sharks can least do without because of the backline injuries that have afflicted them this season, then Marcell Coetzee was probably the next most influential player.
Coetzee has been a revelation this season since adding ball stealing on the ground to his CV, and the turn-overs he has affected have played a massive role in the Sharks’ success that sees them top the log with six rounds to play.
Coetzee would have been an influential figure in the Sharks challenge against the Brumbies in Canberra this coming weekend and also the following week, when the Durbanites are due to bump into a fit again Richie McCaw in the match against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
However, it was confirmed after the 22-16 win over the Rebels in Melbourne at the start of the weekend that Coetzee will be flying home to have a shoulder injury repaired.
Coetzee left the field early in the Melbourne match and was replaced by Keegan Daniel, who played well but isn’t at the same level as a ball stealer and momentum shifter.
Fortunately for the Sharks, they have plenty of experience to bring in as replacement for Coetzee.
Daniel has played over 100 Super Rugby games for the Sharks, while Jacques Botes, who is flying to Australia to replace Coetzee in the squad, is one of the most capped players in South Africa when it comes to games spread across both Super Rugby and Currie Cup.
Scavenging ball on the ground is the Botes speciality, so it will be interesting to see if White is tempted to bring him straight into the match day squad for the Brumbies clash.
The Coetzee injury aside, the other matches played this weekend would have left White with plenty of reason to feel respectful towards his future opponents.
The Brumbies lost badly to the Crusaders, but then the Crusaders haven’t lost to an overseas side in Christchurch for what seems like forever and the Brumies were in good form before that.
And then Christchurch is where the Sharks visit next, with the Crusaders now on a roll and back to the form that has made them multiple champions.
Then comes the Blues in Auckland, a venue where the Sharks did well under their previous coaches but also a place where the Blues, as they showed against the Reds this weekend, can destroy you if you are even a small bit off your game.
The Sharks then return to Durban to face the Stormers, who should have Eben Etzebeth back and who showed signs of resurgence in beating the Shark-killers, the Highlanders, two days ago.
However, if the Coetzee injury and what lies ahead is the bitter part, the sweet part is that the Sharks have won eight games in 10, and are comfortably ahead of the South African conference and have a five point lead over the Brumbies at the top of the overall log.
The win over the Rebels was the first by a South African team overseas this year and it should ease their mood as they spend their week at the Sydney beachside suburb of Coogee in the build-up to the Brumbies game.
In the past some teams have had their chances derailed by too much enjoyment of Coogee and there can be a tendency for that environment to induce a relaxed atmosphere, but there are still enough areas of the game that the Sharks need to work on after Melbourne for them to avoid falling into the trap.
What was really good about the Sharks against the Rebels was the way they made use of turn-over ball to punish a Rebels team that had enough possession but just couldn’t break down an organised and physical Sharks defence for whom Jean Deysel was a particular stand-out.