McLeod reinvigorates Sharks

    2012-04-02 14:27
    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 starting scrumhalf?

    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 specific matches.

    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 the Blues.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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