Sharks clinging to contention

2012-04-23 07:31

Cape Town – The Sharks have it all to do if they are at least to repeat last season’s Super Rugby effort of sneaking into the six-team playoff zone at the end of the campaign.

That is perhaps the best they can hope for at this stage, because it will take a phenomenal effort on their part if they are to overhaul either of the Stormers or Bulls, sharing top spot in the South African conference at the midway mark of their respective programmes and both 10 points clear of the up-and-down Durban side.

A little ominously for the Sharks, their slipping through the gate into the playoffs last year – courtesy of a rousing victory at Loftus on the last day of ordinary season to pip the very Bulls to a berth – came with a tally of 10 wins from their 16 conference matches.

Keegan Daniel’s team have played nine matches thus far, and Saturday’s narrow reverse to the Chiefs in a tense, bruising and error-riddled encounter at humid Mr Price Kings Park left them with a dangerous total of only four victories.

So if a minimum of 10 triumphs will be the requirement to qualify for the playoffs once more, the Sharks will have to win six of their remaining seven fixtures: a tall order for a side more dogged than most by an infuriatingly inconsistent characteristic in 2012.

But qualification has not quite reached “miracle” status in likelihood for them yet, as a few factors do remain in their favour: they don’t even completely preclude the possibility that the Sharks yet top the SA pile.

One is that they are currently the team with more bonus points (seven) than any of the 15 in the competition – that is the same tally they managed in that column after their completed conference obligations in 2011, so if they keep picking these up at a healthy rate it could mean that an arguably more realistic five victories from here might even be enough for them to make the cut this year.

Also ahead still for the Sharks are both of their bye rounds – the first a very welcome one this weekend – meaning that they are still to bank a guaranteed eight points without lifting a finger.

All other teams have already enjoyed one of their two “freebie” weekends.

Their remaining programme also involves a remarkable minimum of travel – five games are in the Shark Tank, whilst trips to Bloemfontein (Cheetahs, May 19) and Johannesburg (Lions, June 2) hardly offer up any threat of jetlag!

The Sharks may have already lost to both South African pace-setters, but those games were at Loftus and Newlands respectively, so they still have home revenge opportunities in each instance.

Even if they have rather drifted off the playoffs radar in the interim, derby pride runs eternally deep and those two assignments – Stormers on May 26 and Bulls on July 6 – could yet have a key bearing on which of those two compatriot sides eventually tops the conference.

The Capetonians retain inside lane, you would think.

Their four-match overseas tour is almost done and dusted, save for what always looked like the least demanding match against the Force, rocked by management upheaval for good measure, in Perth on Saturday.

No match abroad can ever be taken for granted, but the Stormers will probably have to play notably badly or be seriously jaded to trip up in that one – so smart money suggests they will come home smiling, with three wins from the quartet of challenges.

It is never easy being among the last South African sides to tour, after an already pretty gruelling campaign on home soil and when the New Zealand weather, especially, is in danger of deteriorating, but that is the challenge that faces the Bulls this year.

 It could make it difficult for them to stay at least neck-and-neck with the Stormers during that period: their Australasian agenda, in order, is Rebels, Waratahs, Highlanders and finally the overall log-leading (at present, anyway) Chiefs.

The Bulls also have a bit of soul-searching to do during this inactive week for them, after a decidedly patchy display in beating the Brumbies at Loftus, where they suffered the indignity of somehow being outscored in the try department 5-2.

Admittedly the Australian side were a little flattered by the closeness of the 36-34 result, but their seemingly finishing the stronger for stamina on the Highveld of all places was a matter for some concern among Bulls enthusiasts.

It may simply have been a case of the Bulls taking their eye off the ball a bit for “preservation” purposes, as they introduced lots of substitutes towards the end and lost much shape in the process.

This week’s matches (home teams first, all times SA):

Friday: Blues v Reds, 09:35; Lions v Brumbies, 19:10. Saturday: Chiefs v Hurricanes, 09:35; Force v Stormers, 11:40; Cheetahs v Highlanders, 17:05. Sunday: Waratahs v Crusaders, 07:10. Byes: Bulls, Sharks, Rebels.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


  • Koos - 2012-04-23 07:41

    Hulle kan mos die ref kry om te help, nes verlede jaar.

      Terence - 2012-04-23 07:44

      Hierdie jaar is dit die Stormers se beurt. Jy het mos nou al gesien.

      Tokolos - 2012-04-23 07:53

      Arme goed! Ek begin saam met Charles Dumbwin stem... Fishpaste... Sharksoup!!!

      christopher.tarboton - 2012-04-23 08:02

      Ag shame. Lets blame the ref for all the results, forgetting that there are over thirty players contesting the game. Rugby supporters are wither the most stupid and blinkered supporters of any sport the world over, or you suffer from Bulls disease, which is a paranoia that everybody is out to get you. I recall a certain try that shouldnt have been allowed against an aussie team this weekend, and in the game before tqo instances where a yellow card was the very least that was required, but I dont go around sulking and blaming the bloody ref. Grow up man, its a mans sport and there is no place for children with dik lippe.

      Terence - 2012-04-23 08:07

      Proud, I recall a certain try from the Brumbies that also shouldn't have been allowed, so it evens out nicely.

      Koos - 2012-04-23 08:26

      Hoeveel lynstane was skeef ingegooi? In die een wedstryd het die bal nie eens 5 meter getreknie, daar is toe 'n drie gedruk vanaf daai fout. Ek herhaal wat ek al baie gese het: 'n fout op die halflyn kan nie uitgekanselleer word deur 'n fout wat tot punte lei nie, behalwe as jy 'n Stormer is.

      marnusmnorval - 2012-04-23 08:43

      South African teams always play off the ball and push the boundaries and gets away with it. Looks like none of the Refs knows what slowing down the ball means.

      CharlesDumbwin - 2012-04-23 10:10

      No one wants SA teams to keep choking, but every year the sharks are their own worst enemy. The fishpaste club are Chokers !!!

      Danny - 2012-04-23 13:02

      Ja Charles-dom-dom, toe trap fishpaste jou papier kings in die gras in- lag my 'n papie AS julle ooit Super Rugby gaan probeer hahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

  • Rinus - 2012-04-23 07:44

    They're still very much in contention if the Bulls stick to Pierre Spies as Captain. I predict a terrible tour for us. We've been so up and down (weekend to weekend, first half to second half, first 20 minutes to last) and this clearly points to a lack of leadership!! Surely a player cannot look up to a captain that must keep on apologising for missed tackles and knock-ons? Or perhaps he is too arrogant to apologise?

      Rinus - 2012-04-23 08:07

      Terence, I think you should not release a book BEFORE you become a legend - my only actual reference to what can be called arrogance. I merely said that "if he doesn't apologise for missed tackles & dropped balls he is arrogant - I'm sure he does. This is an opinion. What I am 100% sure of is that he is not a shadow of what he was a couple of years ago ... where are those runs with the ball in one hand? Where are the days when it took 3 guys to tackle him? Now we see missed tackles, guys running over him, dropping the ball ... it just seems to me that the Captaincy is too much for him to handle? He should have FIRSTLY get his form back - we are now sitting with our own John Smith where we have a Captain in the team that should not be a first choice selection. I will play CJ in his rightfull position as the BEST no 8 we currently have. And the Pierre must fight to get his place back ...

      Rinus - 2012-04-23 08:40

      His book came out LAST year .... In More than Rugby, Pierre Spies, one of the most imposing and explosive loose forwards that South Africa has ever produced, shares his own story for the first time: his family life, his numerous sporting triumphs, and his faith

      Rinus - 2012-04-23 08:51

      Don't worry Terence, I don't think it made any of the best-seller lists!! :-)

  • Gerhard - 2012-04-23 07:58

    For as long as the current coaching staff and Straueli as DOR remain we will languish in mid-to-bottom position on the Super rugby log. After the 2007 final, under Plumtree, we have now finished 6th, 9th, 6th and 9th in the competition, with this year not looking any better. Time for a cleanout in Durban.

      Rinus - 2012-04-23 08:10

      Gerhard, I agree 100% - I've been saying this for some time. Maybe that will also result in has-beens like Michalak and Bosman to be dropped .. and not to the bench but to the Vodacom team at best!

      Raymond - 2012-04-23 14:41

      Assistant coach in 2007.

  • Philip - 2012-04-23 08:26

    Change the super rugby conference system!!! the Bulls sit on 3rd, yet have more points than the brumbies because of the conference!!! It is a lopsided system.

      marnusmnorval - 2012-04-23 08:44

      Well they will still get into the semis if they are the better team.

      stefan.vanderspuy - 2012-04-23 13:27

      It's lopsided and pathetic! Whoever thought out this scheme, certainly is not anyone with any logical or mathematical ability!

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