Sharks win battle of the yawn
Durban - The Sharks won the battle of the yawn on a soggy Durban night, opening their Super Rugby campaign with a valuable but eminently forgettable 24-9 win over the Cheetahs on Saturday evening.
The enthusiasm of the players and the 27 000 spectators was dampened by the steady drizzle and two teams were simply unable to adapt to the conditions in a drab, lifeless exhibition of wet weather rugby.
“I’ll bet everyone was delighted with that spectacle,” Sharks coach John Plumtree remarked sarcastically at the final whistle.
Significantly, both tries (by the Sharks’ Jacques Botes and hooker Bismarck du Plesssis) were the product of rolling mauls off attacking lineouts. It was that sort of evening and that sort of game.
Both coaches found little that was positive in the evening.
“I was happy with our driving which gave us two tries,” Plumtree said, “but the forwards did not do enough as a unit and we had problems in the lineout. There is quite a bit of hard work to be done.”
The Sharks had a late setback when captain and loosehead John Smit withdrew with a tight calf muscle and Springbok Beast Mtawarira started in his place.
“We’ll assess John on Monday but I’m hoping he will be available for the Blues game on Saturday,” said Plumtree.
But the injury to scrumhalf Charl Mcleod, who was taken out roughly at a breakdown and was limping heavily on Saturday night, might be more damaging.
Plumtree conceded that the Sharks had been naive in their approach, trying to move the ball when they had no forward motion or momentum and were then hammered back in the tackle.
“We should have played closer to the forwards,” he said. “But this is a tough competition and you can’t always get what you want or play the way you would like to. At times you have to just grind out the result.”
But Plumtree ended on a brighter note:
“We will get better and there will be good rugby to watch.”
Stefan Terblanche, who took over from Smit as captain, said that the conditions had forced the Sharks to kick away possession.
“And we were not always accurate with our kicking. But I’m happy that we came away with a win and that was what we were looking for.”
While the Cheetahs were content to hoof the ball downfield all evening, and seldom threatened on attack, the Sharks did attempt to thread a couple of movements together. But, operating off a static base, their passing of the wet ball was laboured and they made little headway.
They were also slow in chasing the many kicks and seldom pressured the Cheetahs’ defenders.
It was as well that the Cheetahs had so little to offer on the night.
They were unable to punish the Sharks’ inaccurate tactical kicking, their lineout problems and their untidy efforts in attempting to move the ball well behind the advantage line.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské said that neither side had played well but said the conditions had been difficult and this had led to the many mistakes.
“We planned to play a kicking game but our execution was poor.”
Trying to find a silver lining somewhere, he said he was encouraged by the Cheetahs’ defence and their lineout.
The Cheetahs’ hooker and captain Adriaan Strauss and Drotské were unhappy with referee Craig Joubert’s rulings at the scrum. Time and again he penalised for the Cheetahs for their early engagement.
“I’ll look at the video and see whether I think it was fair or not,” said Drotské.
“If I think Craig was harsh, I’ll make a report to André Watson (South Africa’s refereeing boss) or otherwise I’ll phone Craig and discuss how we can put things right. We have to sort it out before we play the Bulls on the weekend.”
The Sharks face a rampant Auckland Blues outfit on Saturday evening and they know they will have to be better, much better, against a strong attacking unit.