Johannesburg - The Cell C Sharks had to revert to what they know as the forwards rumbled them to victory in the second half of their opening home Absa Currie Cup game against the Steval Pumas, but the coaches appear to be taking the glass half full view to their start to the season.
The supersport.com website reports, With the big battering rams that dictated a forward based approach during the Super Rugby season now either injured, with the Springboks or departed for Japan, the young Sharks coaches who have taken over for the domestic competition have spoken about the need to play to different strengths.
With most of the experience in the backline, as well as plenty of pace to burn there, it does make sense to make more use of the backs than was the case in Super Rugby, where the Sharks relied on a rigid kicking based approach.
However, having an idea and implementing it are two completely different things, and while assistant coach Sean Everitt has told the media he is pleased that the team has negotiated what he described as a tough part of the season by banking nine out of a possible 10 points, it has to be said that there has been no noticeable improvement in the Sharks’ attacking game.
Indeed, in the first half against the Pumas, when the Sharks won all the ball but could do nothing with it, they looked like a team that had no clue how to put an attack together. They did do a good job of putting an attacking move together immediately after halftime, when the forwards drove up the middle of the field and the Sharks let the ball do the work as they swept left for SP Marais’ try, and generally the play was more urgent after that.
But it was built mostly around the rumbling of the forwards, who got the better of a workmanlike but not great Pumas pack, as testified by the fact that their remaining three tries all came about through the driving maul. Frankly, apart from that opening try, they never looked like scoring through any other avenue, and with the Griquas team they beat in Kimberley on the opening weekend being down to 14 men for all but the opening seven minutes, their failure to get a four try bonus point in that game should have been a concern.
Nonetheless, as the coaches have acknowledged, it has been a testing stage of the season for the Sharks in the sense that there has been a change in head coach at the same time as there has been a switch in emphasis. It might explain why the Sharks in the domestic season haven’t found it as easy to flick the switch and embrace a different game as they did when John Plumtree was coaching both the Super Rugby and Currie Cup teams.
They flew under the radar in the early stages of last year, when Brendan Venter was effectively running the show from behind the scenes, but won the Currie Cup, so perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Sharks will know more about their progress and their potential this coming weekend when they face their old nemesis, the Toyota Free State Cheetahs.
“The Cheetahs have lost a few players to the Boks, but they always pose a threat,” said assistant coach Everitt.
“Although they slipped against the Pumas they are better than that, as they showed when they beat Griquas last weekend. We are expecting a tough day at the office as they have good backs and a strong forward pack. They like to give the ball width and play the edges of the field so for us it is going to have to be about being patient on defence.”
The Sharks team for the Cheetahs game will be announced on Thursday.