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
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.