Lock problem for Sharks?

    2012-03-12 13:26
    Gavin Rich - SuperSport

    Johannesburg - The joy of beating the Lions and getting their home Super Rugby season off to a winning start may have been dampened just a bit by the untimely lock problem that the Sharks are sitting with as they prepare to play the Reds in Durban on Saturday.

    Ross Skeate has been a revelation for the Sharks in the first three games of the season, and has probably been their best lock in the opening stanza of the competition. However, Skeate was forced to leave the field early during the 32-20 win over the Lions with a hip flexor injury that is expected to keep him from facing the Reds.

    In the normal course of events a Skeate injury wouldn’t be a train smash. Alistair Hargreaves is a Springbok and a former national age-group captain who is regarded as one of the better middle of the lineout jumpers around. However Hargreaves, like bulky flanker Jean Deysel, is still two weeks away from being ready to return to Super Rugby.

    Deysel is mentioned because had he been fit it could have offered the Sharks with a potential solution to their problem. Willem Alberts impressed the Springbok coaches when pressed to play from lock at stages of last year’s World Cup, and had Deysel been available, Alberts at lock could have been an option (though a Steve Sykes/Alberts collusion would appear a bit incongruous).

    However until Deysel returns from a long battle with a ligament injury, the Sharks are unlikely to move Alberts away from No 7 flank, where he made the anticipated impression in his comeback game against his old team. It was when the Sharks forwards started driving upfield, with Alberts in the forefront, that the Sharks got into the game and then took control after a sluggish start at Mr Price Kings Park.

    As it stands, Skeate’s absence will probably mean Anton Bresler starts at lock in partnership with Sykes. In the opening game against the Bulls Bresler struggled in a middle of the lineout role that looked unfamiliar to him.

    The lineouts were one aspect of the Sharks game that still looked a bit vulnerable against the Lions, and there is no doubt that like most teams these days, the Reds will target this area in Saturday’s match. Lineouts are a facet of play in which most Australian teams are proficient, but the canny champion team from Brisbane particularly so.

    The Sharks were happy with the win over the Lions, particularly as it was achieved with a bonus point, that enables the Durbanites to come right back into contention in the South African conference. But while the result at Loftus later on the same day means the Sharks are now just three points behind the Bulls, the Bulls have a bye this weekend which means they pocket a guaranteed four log points.

    Those four points for the bye make it difficult to read too much into the log position in the early stages of the competition. For instance the Stormers are currently second on the overall log and out in front of the South African conference, but they picked up four log points for the weekend bye, and the Brumbies, who are also up with the leaders, also have four points for a bye.

    So if the Stormers lose to the Blues on Friday night and the Sharks beat the Reds, it will effectively mean the top three South African teams are closely locked together in the conference battle after the Bulls’ defeat two days ago.

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