Terblanche praises defence
Durban - Durban poison, a potent blend of the February humidity and swarming Sharks defence, again brought the Blues to their knees as they lost their seventh successive Vodacom Super Rugby game to John Plumtree’s side at King’s Park on Saturday evening.
The Sharks again caught the Blues at a good time, as Plumtree admitted later, and the New Zealanders, in losing 26-12, were a pale imitation of the outfit which had downed the Crusaders, the tournament favourites, the week before.
“I can’t really explain why we seem to be their bogey team but long may it last. Our players get excited playing against them and know they have to work hard. But we have also caught the Blues early in the competition a couple of times and the trip over and the Durban humidity definitely helps.”
Certainly the Blues were off-colour on a warm Saturday evening in front of 27 000 spectators. They started sluggishly, perhaps mindful of keeping something in the tank for the latter stages of a tough game, and for an hour they were seldom at full pace.
They battled to control the slippery ball in the humid conditions, coughing up possession in the tackle and dropping passes as the Sharks controlled extended periods of play. Only briefly, in the final quarter - when the hard-running wing Rene Ranger became more involved – did they threaten.
Their genial coach Pat Lam was reluctant to blame the weather or their travels for their problems.
“It promised to be such a good game but we were really disappointing. Against the Crusaders last week we only gave them the ball seven times but tonight we lost the ball on 25 occasions.
“We had no spark and we could not build any pressure at all.”
Lam said that the Sharks had placed his players under pressure.
“Credit to them, they are a very good side and really are our nemesis. The Sharks have such a good system under John Plumtree here in Durban. The continuity the Currie Cup provides means the players are together all year. If they keep playing to their potential, I expect them to be title contenders in July,” he said.
Plumtree was delighted with the improvement of the Sharks.
“We were much better than last week but it was disappointing that we were not able to finish off for a couple more tries. We worked this week on creating more momentum with all the forwards involved in taking the ball up and it worked. ”
The Sharks have still to concede a try in Super Rugby and Plumtree said their defence was the most pleasing aspect of their rugby.
“The players scrambled well and we defended strongly around the ruck. Good on them.
There was also method and accuracy to the tactical kicking of Pat Lambie, Charl McLeod and Louis Ludik and this kept the Blues under pressure.
“It is never easy for us playing here in Durban,” bloodied Blues captain Keven Mealamu said on Saturday night. “We did not look after the ball and the Sharks punished us.”
Sharks captain Stefan Terblanche agreed with his coach that the team’s defence was the most positive feature of the win.
“Not many teams will keep a team of game-breakers like the Blues from scoring a try. I’m more pleased with the 12 points (four penalties) scored by the Blues than the 26 we scored. We fluffed three tries but I’m still delighted with a good win over a quality team in difficult conditions.”
The Sharks squad of 25 left on Sunday night for Perth where they meet the Force on Saturday in the first of four tour matches. Injured tighthead prop Eugene van Staden was not with his team-mates.
“He popped an AC (shoulder) joint and will be out for four to six weeks,” said Plumtree. “That’s real blow for us and for him. He was so excited about his first tour down under.”
Young prop Dale Chadwick was on Sunday named as his replacement with flank Jacques Botes, over injury, back for Lambert Groenewald who was on the bench against the Blues. Hooker Craig Burden and centres Riaan Swanepoel and Adi Jacobs complete the squad.
For long periods, and in front of Saturday’s crowd of 27 000, the talented Blues were made to look decidedly ordinary. And, if the Sharks can complement their blood-and-guts defence and solid build-up with some slick finishing, they are going to be a real handful this season.