SATURDAY night’s Super Rugby finale produced a mixture of emotion and relief as the Sharks beat the Stormers 34-12 in a stop-start affair at King’s Park.
The match served as a farewell to Springbok trio Willem Alberts and brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis. Flyhalf Fred Zeilinga also played his final game for the Sharks before he heads to the Cheetahs.
The Sharks ran in five tries against a fairly makeshift Stormers outfit that featured 14 changes from the side that drew 19-19 with the Lions a week ago.
It seemed fitting that Bismarck du Plessis was named man of the match. The burly Bok hooker also signed off his 11-year career at the Shark Tank with a try. The Bok bruiser was quite emotional during the televised post-match interview as he reflected on a fine career in Durban.
Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold was pensive in Saturday night’s press conference. The Sharks boss was quizzed on the season as a whole and he said he hoped he could keep hold of other senior players in lieu of the outgoing Bok trio.
There had been talk last week of Gold taking a step away from a hands-on coaching role and the Sharks boss confirmed that on Saturday night.
“We are going to have discussions this week, but there are going to be changes in the coaching setup going forward. But it’s not going to be a clear out or a clean slate, it’s just going to be some tweaking over here,” Gold said.
“The reason for that is we are looking at our junior structures, getting some continuity in our U21s and U19s and we are looking to put a lot more time and energy into the Vodacom Cup next year. Now that the competition is over, it’s time for us to sit down and make those decisions.”
Gold will fulfil his role as director of rugby by taking a step away from the coaching reins, admitting that that had been the plan when he first took up the post.
“I probably don’t see myself as a hands-on coach and I don’t think that was the plan when I was initially appointed. Because of the logistics of what happened when I came in, the Sharks needed a coach,” Gold said.
“I envisage myself as a director of rugby. We are going to have a look at the current structures at the moment which I don’t think are ideal. We need to re-address those and look for some expertise in that field.
“I really want to put time and energy into working with the coaches and ensuring all the Sharks teams are playing the same type of rugby. We’ve got a lot of work we want to do with clubs, schools and the local university.”
The Sharks endured an arduous season that saw them lose nine of 16 games, ending up 11th on the Super Rugby log and fourth on the South African conference.
Injuries to crucial Springboks Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Stephan Lewies and Ryan Kankowski made life difficult — not to mention the lengthy bans dished out to Frans Steyn, Du Plessis and Jean Deysel. But Gold took solace in the youngsters that put their hands up in their stead.
“If you see the way Stef Ungerer, Lionel Cronje, André Esterhuizen and Etienne Oosthuizen are playing — and I cannot believe S’bura Sithole is not in the Bok mix he’s been outstanding — you see these youngsters coming through,” Gold said.
“That is our strategy — you’re not going to replace Bismarck du Plessis, you’re just not going to. I don’t think that’s what we should do — we do need a hooker so we’ll have to look, but we must back our youngsters.
“If you think about it, they are the ones who won the last three games and turned the ship around for us. That is exciting; I’m not a blind optimist. But I still think we played poorly at the beginning of the year and our defence let us down.
“It is a really exciting time when you see the youngsters stepping up to the plate and that’s why we need to back them going forward.”
On the coaching front, Gold said the Sharks had not yet advertised a head coach position.
Next weekend sees the playoff stages of the tournament get underway.
Sharks 34: Tries - Cronje, Ungerer, Mvovo, Ndungane, Bismarck du Plessis; Cons - Cronje 2, Zeilinga, Pen - Cronje.
Stormers 12: Pens - Coleman 4