THE Sharks have a chance to restore pride and build confidence when they face the Reds today in Brisbane before returning home to Durban.
A winless tour of Australasia hasn’t quite reflected the improvement the Sharks have made since their abysmal display against the Crusaders in April, when they were beaten 52-10 in front of the Kings Park faithful.
After playing the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Waratahs away from home, the strides made have been significant. Buoyed by the return of Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn, the Sharks have had far more bite in their last three matches.
Unfortunately that hasn’t translated into wins and the Durban outfit are desperate to turn the corner on what has been one of their toughest seasons to date.
Steyn highlighted the frustration of not being able to turn positive performances into victories earlier this week.
“It’s difficult. I thought over the last few weeks we really tried our best, we played the best rugby we have this season, where the wings get the ball and we score tries,” Steyn said.
“But I feel it’s worse when you lose like that; people say if you lose but you played well, it’s okay. I don’t see it like that. When you lose after a poor performance, you know there are things you can work on and fix, but if you really try your best and you still come up short, things don’t go your way, then your confidence really takes a hit. In terms of negativity, I think we’ve been quite good about that and that is due to us being a tight unit.”
The Reds have had an equally dismal season and are currently 13th on the Super Rugby log. Having played without Wallaby star pivot Quade Cooper for most of 2015, their season has been a far cry from their title winning 2011 campaign.
“They’ve gone through the same thing as us, they’re also working hard and their season has turned around, they got it right eventually. We’re still searching for that,” Steyn said.
“They will be the favourites going into the game because they played one heck of a game at the weekend and we’re still struggling a bit. But we don’t want to end off this tour without a win, we want to win this one.”
Home advantage is certainly going to factor in and the Queensland outfit will hope spectators flood into Suncorp Stadium to rattle the visiting side.
Despite their dismal results, the Vodacom Rugby app serves up some interesting statistics about the Reds. They are ranked first for lineouts won on their own throw (165) and are second for lineout steals (19). They have also been a force at the breakdowns, making 99 turnovers all season, which puts them in third behind the Highlanders and Crusaders.
The Sharks equal their stat for lineouts stolen (19), while they haven’t won as many on their own throws. The most worrying stat for the Durbanites is their missed tackles. They have missed the most tackles this year (302 after 14 rounds of rugby).
Sharks captain Marco Wentzel and his fellow jumpers couldn’t quite get it right at lineout time last week against the Waratahs, while Du Plessis can also be blamed for not hitting his mark. Knowing the Reds are far improved in this department, the Sharks will be anticipating a tough tussle in the air.
The likes of All Black Adam Thomson (who joined the Reds this year), Liam Gill and locks James Horwill and Rob Simmons give the Australian outfit jumping options almost everywhere.
The Durban outfit’s defence at the lineout hasn’t been up to standard either. They leaked soft tries directly off lineouts while on tour. While missed tackles factor in, their urgency to get off the advantage line at lineouts has cost them.
If the Sharks can dominate the set pieces, they will be looking to continue their exciting attacking play.
Sharks: Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, S’bura Sithole, Lionel Cronje, Stefan Ungerer, Renaldo Bothma, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Marco Wentzel (c), Stephan Lewies, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Franco Marais, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Mouritz Botha, Etienne Oosthuizen, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga, Andre Esterhuizen.
Reds: James O’Connor, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Karmichael Hunt, Samu Kerevi, Chris Kuridrani, Jake McIntyre, Will Genia, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Adam Thomson, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Greg Holmes, James Hanson, James Slipper (c). Replacements: Andrew Ready, Pettowa Paraka, Sam Talakai, Ed O’Donoghue, Lolo Fakaosilea, Nick Frisby, Sam Greene, Ben Tapuai.
Today’s Super Rugby fixtures
Chiefs vs Bulls 9.35 am
Reds vs Sharks 11.40 am