SIX losses in a row leaves little to write home about but Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold believes his side are about to get it right ahead of their final tour match against the Reds on Friday.
The Durban outfit have taken stock following their controversial 33-18 loss to the Waratahs. The game was marred by referee Rohan Hoffmann’s bad officiating — but still proved to be a physical, exciting game of rugby.
From their base in Brisbane, Gold confirmed there weren’t any injuries serious enough to rule players out so early in the week. “It was an extremely physical game so the guys are very sore, but by and large we’re in a good position. Willem Alberts is sore, Beast [Mtawarira] is still sore and Dale [Chadwick] received a cut above his eye at training yesterday, so we’ll have to see how everyone is today. But we’re hoping for more or less a clean bill of health,” Gold said.
Mtawarira was a late withdrawal last week and Chadwick filled in for the Springbok loosehead prop. The latter performed well at scrumtime against the solid Waratahs pack. Mtawarira has been in good form of late and will be a welcome sight in the Sharks lineup if he is cleared to play.
The “Bone Collector” was a surprise package on Saturday having not been named to play against the Waratahs. The beefy Bok flank was elevated to the starting XV at the 11th hour and made positive contributions on both attack and defence.
The two Springboks will certainly bolster the Sharks’ bid to end their losing streak and finish their tour on a high. But to do that, the Durbanites need to improve their defensive effort after conceding some very soft tries on tour.
Conrad Smith ran in an easy try off poor defensive alignment at a lineout when the Sharks played the Hurricanes. Last weekend, Adam Ashley-Cooper was on hand to finish off a very similar try from a lineout.
Gold was happy with the improved attack, but lamented his charges’ defensive lapses. “It was an improvement on the week before, although it was a poor start conceding a relatively soft try early on. We showed massive character for the rest of the game and to get back into a position where we could have won the game.”
“For the second week in a row we crossed the line a couple of times. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I thought S’bura [Sithole] did very well. It was just unfortunate that he was deemed to be forced into touch and Lwazi [Mvovo] did outstandingly well to try stop their try, so you can’t fault the effort of the players,” Gold said.
The Sharks are finally starting to show the attacking brand of rugby which was talked up in the offseason and Gold believes that, coupled with improvements on defence, things might just click into place in Brisbane.
“We crossed the tryline five times against the Hurricanes, although two of them weren’t awarded, and we crossed the tryline a few times this weekend and one wasn’t awarded.
“So we’re creating opportunities and very nearly finishing them. I’m excited about that, I’m excited about our counter-attack and I’m excited about how we look with ball in hand,” Gold said.
“We’re not fooling ourselves. We realise that we need a vast improvement in our defence. But we have some young guys on the park who are learning a huge amount. Coupled with the fact that we look quite good with ball in hand, I have no doubt we can only improve. I’m reasonably encouraged by the fact that the issues we’re getting wrong are very fixable.”
The Sharks will name their team today and they will look to play their best hand in lieu of the Reds resurgent win over the Rebels last weekend.
“You look at the players in their team — Slipper, Horwell, Genia, Turner, O’Connor — these are really good rugby players, highly experienced internationals … we know we’re going to have our hands full,” Gold stressed.
The Sharks take on the Reds on Friday. Kickoff is at 11.40 am