Johannesburg - The Sharks will go into their final Super Rugby tour match facing a similar situation to what they did this past weekend – they will be up against a home side smarting from the criticism heaped on them following an unexpected defeat.
On Good Friday it was the Hurricanes, beaten by the Cheetahs six days earlier, who started against the Sharks with a point to prove, and this Friday it will be the Blues who are in the same backs to the wall situation as they host the Durbanites at Eden Park in Auckland.
The Blues lost to the Rebels in Melbourne, their fifth defeat of the season, and it leaves them languishing at the bottom of the overall log.
Sharks coach John Plumtree warned of a Hurricanes backlash last week and he got it, so there will be no need to stress the point again this week.
What Plumtree does need to do though is read the riot act to a team that delivered their most disappointing performance of the season just when it appeared they might be getting some upward momentum on the Super Rugby log.
No-one who saw the Hurricanes game will be surprised that Plumtree is targeting defence as an area that requires big improvement.
“Obviously defensively we just weren’t up to the task, we just weren’t good enough to look after their threats,” said Plumtree of the six tries his team conceded in a match in which they dominated the battle for possession and territory.
“Defence is something we will put a big focus on this week. We’re making similar errors week in and week out, which is frustrating. We need to be a lot more accurate with our one-on-one tackling.”
Right now the Sharks are in need of a miracle fix to a defensive system which, to be honest, has been problematic since week three of the competition, and which keeps letting in soft tries immediately after the hard work of scoring one has been completed.
But while long term they should really invest in a defence coach – they are one of the few franchises that doesn’t have one – the Sharks do still have a chance to get back on the horse and challenge for a place in the Super Rugby play-offs. Two wins was the minimum they needed from the tour to remain in contention, and they will achieve that if they win in Auckland.
Their chances of setting up a platform from which to strike in the extended home leg that awaits them were given a significant boost by the confirmation that Patrick Lambie is likely to return to the No 10 jersey this week after missing out since the opening tour match against the Waratahs.
There has been speculation that Lambie suffered a jaw injury but the Sharks management have said that the injury was to a wisdom tooth.
Lambie should bring the direction that was lacking against the Hurricanes, and Plumtree is also hopeful that Bismarck du Plessis will be over the thigh injury that kept him from starting against the Hurricanes.
However on the negative side of the balance sheet the Sharks could be going into the game without regular inside centre Tim Whitehead and their form loose-forward Marcell Coetzee.
“Whitehead has a bit of a groin injury and we’ll manage him through the week, while Marcell went off with a shoulder injury. We’ll have to make a decision on him later in the week,” said the coach.