Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Cape Town - Sharks coach John Plumtree readily admitted to a horrible sense of de ja vu after watching his team get thumped 41-10 in their opening Neo Africa Tri-Series engagement against the Lions at Newlands on Tuesday night.
GALLERY: Lions v Sharks Neo Africa Tri-Series
The Sharks started their 2010 campaign with a 26-0 defeat to the Western Force in the corresponding match of last year, and it was not lost on Plumtree that his tormentor in the opposition coaches box on that occasion as also his old Kiwi mate John Mitchell.
There is a bad portent for the Sharks in that the calamitous start last year was a precursor to a disastrous opening sequence of five defeats in the Super 14, and with so much expected of the Currie Cup champions in Vodacom Super Rugby this year, they cannot afford a repeat.
“There was a sense of de ja vu in the changeroom after the game, it did remind us of what happened last year when we started in similar fashion against the Western Force,” said Plumtree.
The Sharks were a lot better on Tuesday night than they were in that match, and the presence of the Currie Cup in their trophy cabinet in Durban is testimony to the growth the team has made since last January/February.
But where Plumtree was right to be concerned was the ease with which the Lions were able to overpower the Sharks near their own line, with three driving maul tries from lineouts close to the tryline appearing to surprise even Lions captain Franco van der Merwe.
While he felt that coughing up possession 24 times, as the Sharks did in the match, was unacceptable, it was those three forward tries that most troubled Plumtree after the game.
“We have a much-better quality squad this year, but a lot of rugby is all about attitude, and that can be measured in how you defend near your line,” said Plumtree.
“The Lions scored three tries through driving mauls near our line, and the ease with which they were able to score posed questions about our attitude. It really doesn’t matter what shape you are in if you are not up there with your attitude. In that sense this performance was disturbing. Some players let themselves down badly.
“Tonight just wasn’t good enough and there are a lot of individual players who let themselves down and who are going to have to pick themselves up and prove themselves when next we play (against the Stormers on Saturday.”
To be fair the Sharks, as was the case in the corresponding game in 2010, were not helped by the fact that their opponents started with 80 minutes of rugby behind them whereas this was their first match of the season at this level.
“We had the reference point of the Stormers match to work on and that helped us a lot,” acknowledged Mitchell. “We saw what went wrong there and where we fell down and it gave us something to work on, which we did over the past three days.”
The Lions that turned in such a rousing display last night were beaten 15-0 by the Stormers in the opening match, and Plumtree is hoping his men will make a similar improvement now that they have been given such a massive wake-up call.
“I don’t expect the Stormers to help us try and regain our confidence because I am sure there will be an element of revenge for them in this game for what happened in the Currie Cup final,” said Plumtree.
“But we do know what we need to work on. Apart from those forward tries coughing up possession 24 times is unacceptable, and we conceded 15 penalties to seven. I thought the shape of our game was good. What let us down was patience. The Lions defensive game has improved immeasurably, and you need to be patient against good defensive teams.
“So those are lessons that we can use. It was a disappointing performance but there is an opportunity for us to set it right by standing up in what will be an extremely stern test against the Stormers. This is a chance for players who let themselves down to set the record straight.”