Sharks edged, but some bright signs

    2017-02-24 14:07

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – It is less than ideal to start your campaign on the back foot, as the Sharks have just done in Super Rugby 2017, but they would also be silly to succumb to any unnecessarily drawn-out moping.

    The men from Durban, who had held the lead in Brisbane’s subtropical warmth for generous periods, eventually succumbed 28-26 to the Reds in an engrossing enough fixture.

    Considering that the Queenslanders notched four tries to two and that Quade Cooper’s place-kicking was more than a bit flaky at times, there could be no major reason to quibble with the outcome, although the Sharks did fully warrant their losing bonus point.

    It is clear that the 2011 champions, in the doldrums in more recent times, have set their sights determinedly on revival and they may prove tough nuts for several other sides to crack at Suncorp Stadium this year.

    So the Sharks – not especially used to game one of their roster being overseas -- still have every reason for optimism as they move onward to Canberra and the relative luxury of an eight-day turnaround to next Saturday’s second and final Australian tour match against the Brumbies, who have shed certain key characters and aren’t hugely tipped to be the force of old in 2017.

    There was, after all, some contentiousness about the game-tilting try by James Tuttle in the 71st minute, with a suggestion of a forward pass in the build-up.

    Then the tourists had a chance with three minutes left to snatch back the lead, only for their previously unerring flyhalf and captain Pat Lambie to drift a long, challenging penalty attempt wide to the right.

    Apart from that moment, Lambie had been one of several Sharks players to look keen and sharp – a particularly healthy sign as his comeback games toward the end of last season after his horrible concussion against Ireland had seen him too often tentative and innocuous.

    The 26-year-old skipper was a bastion of personal assuredness at No 10, showing a willingness not to be caught “in the pocket” too much, and also engaged shrewdly and alertly with referee Nick Briant whenever necessary.

    It may not be quite a fait accompli, if Lambie continues his reawakening, that fit-again Handre Pollard of the Bulls simply waltzes back into the national shirt at all-important pivot in mid-year.

    When the Sharks tackle the Brumbies, coach Robert du Preez may well urge his charges to try to boss territory and possession a bit more – they only got some 44 percent of the ball on Friday – as they were kept busy in the tackling department throughout.

    Still, Lambie made a reasonable point in his immediate on-field interview afterwards that he didn’t feel late-game fatigue was a reason for the reverse; many of the Sharks players appear in a pretty sound state of conditioning.

    There is some work yet to be done in making their lineout more clinical, and at critical times passes were irritatingly spilled as they tried to launch speedy hand-to-hand offensives.

    But there was also decent collective zeal, industry and bright support play by the Sharks for generous periods, including a gutsy and creative showing from raw outside centre Lukhanyo Am.

    He is not the biggest No 13 you will ever see, and that can be a drawback in defence near his own line, although he could hardly be faulted for commitment as muscular, Fijian-born opposite number Samu Kerevi barrelled over for two tries.

    Locks Ruan Botha and Etienne Oosthuizen put in busy, physical shifts in the tight-loose, up against seasoned Wallabies in Rob Simmons and Kane Douglas, and Jean-Luc du Preez – apart from romping over for a breakaway try as early as the second minute – also demonstrated a decent engine and ceaseless leg-drive at blindside flank.

    The Sharks may be nought-from-one, but there is plenty to work with …

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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