Sharks take stock
Win at last for Sharks
THE Sharks regroup in Durban this week having broken their losing streak with a 21-14 win over the Reds in their final game on tour last Friday.
With a little bit of luck and a monumental effort from hooker Bismarck du Plessis, the Sharks regained some pride by beating the men from Brisbane in a hard-fought encounter.
While the win was welcome, it came at a costly price and it remains to be seen who will be available for the final two matches of the season.
There were a number of casualties who went down in Brisbane.
Springbok lock Stephan Lewies is likely to miss the remainder of the season. He went down in a heap after landing awkwardly at a lineout. Commentators said the 23-year-old had damaged the patella (knee-cap) tendon. The injury seems serious, and like fellow injured Springbok Pieter-Steph du Toit, it is the second knee injury for the second-rower in as many years.
Springbok flank Willem Alberts was also taken off the field. His head was heavily bandaged after a knock, but the “Bone Collector” will probably be up for selection this week with nothing more than a concussion.
Reserve loosehead Dale Chadwick limped off the field not long after he had replaced Beast Mtawarira. It was an unfitting end to his tour, having played well when called upon. Whether he will be available this week isn’t too much of a headache with everyone back at home.
Springbok centre Frans Steyn also left the field in the second half after making a tackle. He seemed to have injured his pectoral muscle (chest) in the tackle and was immediately uncomfortable — waving to the sideline for a replacement.
His will be arguably the biggest loss after some fantastic contributions on tour after serving out a five-week ban. Steyn brought stability and confidence in the midfield and linked up well with JP Pietersen outwide. His physicality on defence was a big factor while he helped the backline click — something they hadn’t done before going on tour.
The victory was a welcome relief after weeks of no rewards for improved performances. Talk from the Sharks camp as they travelled around the Antipodes harped on that fact — wins just seemed to elude the Durban outfit despite their best efforts.
Luck most certainly played its part last Friday, but a couple of individuals were ultimately responsible for the win.
Du Plessis deservedly grabbed man of the match — a fitting birthday present for the big man. He was colossal at the breakdown, making six turnovers while bullying the Reds players on defence. It is encouraging to see the Bok hooker regain his form in a World Cup year.
He has also proved he can keep his discipline in check while playing aggressively. Having paid the price — and relinquishing the captaincy of the side — for kicking out at a Chiefs player earlier in the season, Du Plessis managed to focus on his rugby and the Sharks reaped the rewards for it.
While wins kept evading the Sharks a couple of weeks ago, director of rugby Gary Gold optimistically stated that the adversity of their situation would help younger members of the squad grow.
With Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie out injured, Stefan Ungerer and Lionel Cronje stepped up at scrumhalf and flyhalf respectively. The latter was the catalyst of the Sharks’ improved attacking play.
Ungerer made the most of his three starts on tour. His performance against the Reds was by far his best, and he scored both his first and second Super Rugby tries in Brisbane last week.
With Reinach likely to be out for another week or so, Ungerer looks set to continue at scrumhalf.
A win under the belt has finally boosted confidence and the Sharks will look to maintain continuity this week. Given that some of the walking wounded will not be available, Gold will do his best not to change too much in an effort to finish the season on a high.
The Sharks host the Rebels this Friday in Durban. Kickoff is at 7.10 pm.
Super Rugby round 14 results
Stormers 31-15 Rebels
Cheetahs 17-40 Lions
Force 3-23 Highlanders
Waratahs 32-22 Crusaders
Blues 5-29 Hurricanes
Reds 14-21 Sharks
Chiefs 34-20 Bulls