Sharks dead in the water

    2015-05-01 14:37

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – The Sharks are horribly close to a freefall phenomenon in 2015.

    Friday’s depressing 48-15 Super Rugby surrender to the Highlanders in their tour opener in Dunedin leaves the supposedly “major” South African franchise with seven defeats from 11 games; anonymity beckons, rather loudly.

    Bear in mind that last season they won the local conference, only losing five of their 16 ordinary-season fixtures – they have already comfortably exceeded that tally with five matches to go and three of them still to negotiate in foreign climes.

    Mathematically, you could advance an argument that they aren’t quite buried in playoffs terms yet.

    If you were to use last year’s model as a yardstick, 42 points was the minimum requirement to make the finals series cut: the Sharks have precisely half that tally (21).

    But with a maximum of 25 points left for them to play for on a shrinking roster, can you possibly see the Sharks suddenly exploding into a surge of winning form and banking a further 21 or thereabouts?

    There is desperately little further margin for error, and the claw-back scenario looks even less feasible when you consider that next week the men from Durban must visit the Hurricanes, pace-setters for so much of the current campaign.

    Most of us, and even with some staunch Sharks fans presumably on board, will already have come pretty firmly to the conclusion that they are also-rans.

    By conceding seven tries to give the Highlanders an easy five-point full house, the tourists also did few favours to more ambitious compatriots like the Stormers and Bulls, only adding to the likelihood that at least three New Zealand outfits will be pressing very strongly for top-six finishes.

    In short, they looked a rag-tag bunch for most of the contest, making some juvenile errors, displaying lack of urgency and zest at times and having their first-time defensive shape reduced to disorganised tatters.

     They also conceded the ball too easily after doing initial hard yards to secure it, which played right into the majestic, counter-sniping hands of their foes.

    As former All Blacks coach John Mitchell observed even at halftime in the SuperSport studio: “If there’s a better (attacking) team from turnover ball than the Highlanders I’ve yet to see it.”

    He also made the point that for the current Sharks team to be successful -- with their lopsided focus on physicality to the detriment of flair – they “need to be in the last 30 metres of the field to bring out their strengths”.

    Unfortunately they were unable to consistently enough command sufficient quality real estate for that to happen, rather nullifying the hard-driving potential of Willem Alberts, Tendai Mtawarira and the like.

    Whenever it did seem they might be building something half-promising on attack, they would be thwarted by infuriating handling errors under little pressure, with captain and second-rower Marco Wentzel – more excusable, perhaps – and the midfield pair of Andre Esterhuizen and JP Pietersen glaring culprits on specific occasions.

    And when TV commentator Tony Johnson, certainly not the most one-eyed of Kiwis, observed in a different passage of play that “once again Esterhuizen’s first instinct is to run into a defender” he could have been talking of several other Sharks backs’ inability to either create or exploit space.

    If there were positives to bank for the under-the-weather Sharks, promising lock beanpole Stephan Lewies – albeit showing rust that translated into the odd gaffe -- got through an industrious, spirited 70-minute shift in his first start of the season after injury.

    Especially in the first half, the back-from-disgrace Bismarck du Plessis, freed of the cares of captaincy, showed signs of restoring his lofty playing standards of old.

    The gnarly Bok stole a couple of balls from under the Highlanders’ noses, and when he had the ball tucked under an arm he used the other effectively at times to execute some of his famed hand-offs – happily of the strictly legal kind.

    With their playoffs hopes well nigh dashed, hopefully Gary Gold and company will use the next few games -- even as they feel the effects of certain absent, key personnel – to try to introduce some new elements to the Sharks’ too one-dimensional playing style.

    At the moment, they still look a good bunch to call on only if you need them to push-start your temperamental bakkie ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  sharks super 15 rugby

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