Sharks captain John Smit summed it up perfectly after his team’s 27-3 win over the Lions in their Super Rugby match in Durban – “We got what we wanted.”
The five log points they packed into their kit-bags for winning and scoring four tries was always going to be more important than performance on a day that brought to an end the first phase of the season for the Sharks. They now go into their bye before returning on the Easter weekend for a clash with the Hurricanes at Mr Price Kings Park.
Importantly, the Sharks picked up their five log points on a day when their other chief rivals for top spot on the South African conference which will secure a guaranteed place in the semi-finals dropped games and failed to pick up a bonus point. Both the Stormers and the Bulls went down badly to the Reds and Crusaders respectively, which means the Sharks take their bye comfortably wedged between the two teams – four points behind the Stormers and four ahead of the Bulls.
There is a long way to go yet, but the Sharks, with four points for the bye guaranteed this weekend, will be hoping that the Lions can recover from the beating they took in Durban by fronting the Stormers in Johannesburg on Saturday while the Reds should be favoured to compound the misery of the Bulls when the two sides clash in Brisbane.
The Sharks tackle the Stormers the week after the Hurricanes clash and that is shaping as a big game in the future of both teams, as is the one between the Sharks and the Bulls in Durban in the second half of May.
For now though the Sharks will just be happy to be back on track for their coach John Plumtree was quite adamant last week that defeat could mean an end to their chances of challenging for a place at the top of the conference table. It also put to an end a sequence of three successive defeats and thus quashes talk of a potential crisis for the Sharks.
Five points was always the aim so it was touch and go for the Sharks in the second half, when they initially failed to capitalise on the ground they had made in the first half when they went up 17-3 and scored three tries. They had to wait until the last move of the match before scrumhalf Charl McLeod finally went over to secure the bonus.
Both teams attacked each other at the breakdowns, and there were a lot of turn-overs, with the Sharks profiting from the ones that came their way for the bulk of the first half tries. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect for the Sharks though will be the improved showing of a back division that looked a little one-dimensional and short of pace against the Stormers the previous week.
From both a Sharks and national viewpoint the return to form of JP Pietersen is a big bonus, and he played a prominent role in his team’s win as he continues to regain confidence. With so many other established Boks struggling at the moment, the form of Pietersen, Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts gave the Springbok selectors reason for at least half a smile at the weekend.
The good news for the Sharks is that Patrick Lambie is expected to return at flyhalf for the matches against the Hurricanes and the Stormers, though there really wasn’t much wrong with the play of Jacques-Louis Potgieter at the weekend.