Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Is it any coincidence that the Sharks have won
twice and had just one close-call defeat since Charl McLeod returned as
The No 9 was a monumental contributor to their pulsating,
frantic victory over the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend, not getting quite
the post-match praise I felt he deserved as fairly customary laurels went
instead to confrontational players in the pack like Bismarck du Plessis, Willem
Alberts and Marcell Coetzee.
As evidenced by their mid-table position in both the SA
conference and overall logs, the Sharks are a hot-and-cold side – a
characteristic not only in results terms but also within the 80 minutes of
It made for a typically helter-skelter affair against Jake
White’s charges, but at least their overseas tour is back on track after the
agonising 34-30 defeat to the Waratahs in a Sydney clash they will probably
know they ought to have closed out in their favour.
The men from Durban do like to smash holes in opposition close-quarters
defence at pace, and McLeod’s urgency and stealth as key “service provider” was
instrumental in keeping the visitors on the front foot as much as possible.
He looked like a reinvigorated customer in every respect,
clearly with old levels of stamina and industriousness returning as he reaps
the benefits of three starts for the Sharks on the trot.
His return to first-choice status began with the Durban
triumph over the Reds, after the versatile Frederic Michalak had his own,
largely mediocre spell in the berth.
The Frenchman just looks so much more at home at flyhalf,
and it showed again in Canberra where he was far from flawless – some of his
tactical kicking was poor and he isn’t the staunchest of defenders – but did
manage to keep the Brumbies guessing at times with his peculiar brand of X-factor.
With McLeod back at No 9 and Michalak just outside him,
there were periods of bright attacking play from the Sharks’ three-quarters,
and the four-try bonus point was a cherry on top ... might Pat Lambie, if over
his dental issues, now struggle to return immediately to the No 10 shirt?
Many Sharks fans must have been heartened by McLeod looking
much more like the player who was so influential in their 2010 Currie
Cup-winning season, after going through a 2011 dip which included a curtailed
contribution because of a hip fracture.
Watch a re-run of the 29-26 win against the Brumbies, if you
can, for confirmation of Springbok-capped McLeod’s constructive energy: apart
from clearing the ball or sniping around the fringes at decent speed, the
28-year-old put in some big-hearted, timely tackles.
One of them was absolutely critical as the home side laid
siege to the Sharks’ line in the nerve-jangling second half; his thumping hit
on a Brumbies ball-carrier led to the near 100-metre breakout where lock Steven
Sykes made thunderous ground before passing infield and Lwazi Mvovo opened the
throttle to romp over for a worthy candidate for try of the season.
And right at the breathless finish, with the Brumbies
threatening an unlikely steal of the contest, it was also fittingly McLeod who
finally kicked the ball out after the siren from deep in his own quarter,
succumbing to an understandable bit of cramping even as he did so.
Strong marks for “full 80” commitment, that man.
The Sharks continue their Antipodean tour with matches
against the equally fickle Hurricanes (Friday, 09:35, New Plymouth) and then
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