Cape Town - At least Sean Everitt can say “I’ve been in this boat before” … the freshly-installed Sharks coach for the 2019 Currie Cup might add with some keenness, too, that altogether smoother waters were quickly found on the prior occasion.
History repeated itself, six years onward, when the hosts and defending champions suffered an opening-round Kings Park reverse to less fancied Griquas in damp, slippery conditions on Friday - and it was a proper humbling this time as they crashed by an undignified 37-13 margin, conceding a bonus point to the men from the diamond fields into the bargain.
Everitt had also been part of the Sharks coaching support staff when they began the 2013 competition on the back foot in Durban against the same foes.
The big difference was that Griquas nicked the spoils extremely late then, in a 32-30 outcome - here they dictated matters for lengthy periods and richly deserved the upset, something that will deeply concern the Sharks’ gradually eroding support base and would have jolted Everitt and his allies in the booth too.
Just one starter in this humbling, left wing Lwazi Mvovo, began the 2013 clash as well, although Craig Burden and Tera Mtembu, the latter a co-captain on Friday, had been part of the broader match-day squad.
The current Sharks will want desperately to see it as a harbinger of rosier fortunes not too far up the line that they recovered quite swiftly in that year’s competition, going on to finish in second place after the round-robin phase and also hoisting the trophy after thumping log-leaders Western Province in the Newlands showpiece.
As for Griquas, they did not win another game that season and finished last on the table.
But circumstances are a bit different this time: the 2019 competition, unlike that one, is being played only on a single-round basis, making every game of increased importance and any defeats particularly costly.
With the Sharks only boasting two further home tussles in the form of Western Province next weekend - the team they beat in the 2018 final - and then Free State, they already have some catching up to do if they want to end ordinary season atop the pile.
While conditions were less than ideal for any consistently expansive intentions (Everitt had spoken of wishing to bring some different dimensions to the Sharks’ traditionally earthy, physical, close-quarters style), the champions could only produce one try to Griquas’ four and struggled severely for continuity against the commendably industrious, in-your-face visitors.
In a game of huff and puff but little in the way of thrilling entertainment value, the game management of Griquas captain and much-travelled flyhalf George Whitehead was a key attribute, while the cohesiveness of their unheralded (at least on paper) pack was reflected in two late rumbling-maul tries to put the cherry on top of a shrewd collective showing.
This was a less than perfect way for Springbok World Cup winner of 2007 JP Pietersen to mark his Sharks return, on his 33rd birthday, although he did have a strong hand in manufacturing their lone visit to the whitewash through scrumhalf Cameron Wright.
Griquas will be out to prove this result was no flash in the pan when they entertain the Pumas in their first home fixture next Friday; on the evidence of game one, they should be hotly tipped to go two from two …
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