Sharks shy of title mettle

2012-04-06 13:26

Cape Town - They call it Good Friday ... but there was little decent about the Sharks’ Super Rugby capitulation to the Hurricanes in New Plymouth.

In crashing 42-18 to the moderate New Zealanders, who admittedly played a little above themselves on the day, and by a rather gory six tries to two, most neutrals probably saw enough to deduce that once again the Sharks do not look like truly credible title-chasing material.

They emerged tenuously placed in both overall log terms and in the South African conference, with three wins and four losses.

There is also one more tour obligation to complete before their return to our shores - a battle of the colossal modern under-achievers in this competition as they square up to the inexplicably ailing Blues in Auckland (considerably more off the pace than they are, of course) next Friday.

Knowing the ever-unpredictable Sharks, they will probably win that one and restore a flicker of hope to their campaign ... just don’t count too heavily on it after what happened against the ‘Canes.

But even if they were to prevail at Eden Park against Keven Mealamu and company, there are just too many current holes in the Durban team’s armoury to suggest that they will end up as legitimate contenders for a maiden title success.

It is true that in remaining fixture terms, even another reverse in Auckland would not completely elbow the Sharks out of the play-offs picture.

With a stretch of eight games back in South Africa, and six of them in Durban, the second half of the conference campaign looks favourable on paper for John Plumtree’s charges.

They have two byes still in the bag, which certainly helps, plus the knowledge that the two presently strongest compatriot sides, the Stormers and Bulls, have already been tackled away and must yet visit Mr Price Kings Park.

But there’s much head-scratching and soul-searching to do if the Sharks are, from here, to fare any better than just squeezing into the playoffs mix, as they did on the last day of ordinary-season activity last year before the unfavourable knockout draw - the “punishment” for being sixth overall - quickly saw them bombed out abroad by the Crusaders, eventual losing finalists.

There are plenty of elements to their squad that suggest the Sharks should be riding consistently higher among the big guns of Super Rugby, yet something also doesn’t quite add up from a routine efficiency point of view.

In the latest match, their defence around the fringes but also, to a lesser extent, out wide was exposed - and not for the first time - for the sort of brittleness you get when you try to lift a plastic bag loaded with bricks; it simply “gives” with absurd ease.

This is an area where the Stormers, by contrast, have looked light years more competent and clinical over the past two seasons, going a long way to explaining why they continue to find themselves on superior terrain in the competition.

Especially in the first half at Yarrow Stadium, field position and “go-forward” hardly represented a problem, but the Sharks’ penchant for surrendering composure (also read: the ball!) at key times near the opposition try-line meant the Hurricanes were able to create sudden havoc at the other end of the park.

Clearly buoyed by their early, bonus counter-strikes, the ‘Canes were able to open up a 14-point lead well within the first quarter and it was just the self-belief tonic they needed after the fiasco of their 47-38 loss to the Cheetahs from a platform of 32-11 in their favour.

The Sharks were even further in the soup by half-time, doubtless wondering how they could find themselves 25-3 down, and although they found flashes of comeback inspiration soon after the break, their fire was again snuffed out as the barn door at the wrong end continued to flap disconcertingly rather than bolt itself shut.

Yes, the Sharks were hampered at times by dubious officiating from Glen Jackson, and some borderline TMO calls that also went against them - it led to some frayed tempers in a feisty contest and there could be some citing repercussions after the referee brandished the revolutionary new white card following a mass flare-up with an increasingly irritable Jannie du Plessis not far at all from the fulcrum of things.

But they can’t play victims. Denial of their shortcomings will get them nowhere.

Captain Keegan Daniel, one of the better-functioning Sharks players on a day when too many team-mates would tick a box one minute and earn a cross the next, did concede afterwards that they’d been “pretty slack in some areas”.

Bluntly, the Sharks are presently not good enough to warrant status anywhere above the mid-table region they occupy.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


  • Jacques - 2012-04-06 13:52

    What a frustrating game of rugby to watch! Although the Canes' penultimate try scored by their inside center was an awesome display of skill! Rather enjoyed that!

      Pierre - 2012-04-07 01:35

      I found the refereeing calls especially one-sided and frustrating. The game was lost in the first 30min; repeated one-sided calls break a team’s morale. Why would next week be any different?

      Pierre - 2012-04-07 12:35

      Ok, I deleted my previous comment and going to rather ignore this Bluey chap and his incoherent ’95 WC rubbish theories. Maybe I over reacted on the analysis of the Sharks earlier, but I still feel for them though. It does frustrate me when referees give penalties against the attacking side on real marginal issues. Looking forward however, the Sharks can still challenge for the play-offs and they have the team to do that.

  • Rinus - 2012-04-06 14:29

    Have a good look at their 22: 15. Riaan Viljoen, 14. Louis Ludik, 13. JP Pietersen, 12. Tim Whitehead, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Frederic Michalak, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel (captain), 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Jandre Marais, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Dale Chadwick Substitutes: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Anton Bresler, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Jacques Botes, 21. Meyer Bosman, 22. Marius Joubert How many of these players will make the Springbok starting 22? Or rather, if you are a Bulls or Stormers coach, which of these will you pick to replace any player in your current team? Mvovo and Pietersen maybe. And Lambie and Beast (injured currently). But that's it! Viljoen, Ludik, Whitehead, Michalak, McLeod are all decent Vodacom players at their best. Bosman and Joubert are has-beens from 4 years ago. Du Plessis brothers more intent on boxing these days - perhaps they should retire to their farm in Bethlehem!

      David - 2012-04-06 14:42

      A good team can make average players look better than they are, as well as a crappy team make brilliant players look useless. Bismark for all his temper issues is still a great player. Marais and Coetzee are very good players but still inexperienced so mistakes and poor games can be expected from time to time. Daniel almost always plays well. Mcleod is getting back to his best, Whitehead is getting better, Mvovo is always dangerous and Viljoen is a dangerous fullback as the brumbies found out last week. There are enough quality players in the side, they are simply not consistently performing. Asking that question after a mauling is misleading and unfair. I could have asked the same thing about the Bulls after the Blues loss.

      Rinus - 2012-04-06 14:55

      David, I think the Sharks will look much better with Lambie back at 10 and hopefully (for you, not us!) Steyn gets back early to play at 12. I do however think that the Sharks lack a decent backline coach. And a better scrumhalf and fullback - I do not rate Mcleod or Viljoen. The first for being one-dimensional and the latter for being a "flash in the pan" only player (like Kirchner). I am critisizing the borthers because they should be the example to the younger guys but are more intent on dirty play. Bismarck should have been picked ahead of Smit last year without ANY doubt but it seems as if the "injustice" made him bitter and he is performing nowhere close to where he should. Keegan gives his all every game - i feel sorry for him and think he'll be better off without the captaincy. Bosman and Joubert - do not tell me there's nobody better (and younger)!? Only my opinion!

      David - 2012-04-06 15:12

      Definately agree with you about Joubert but Bosman did show against Waratahs that he should be persisted with just a little longer. I think we will disagree on McLeod, I feel he's played well at scrumhalf and keeps the opposition on their toes. The first thing I'd do is move Michalak to the kitchen as maybe he'd do better in French cuisine. It's no coincidense that our best period of play was against the 'Tahs with McLeod at 9 and Lambie at 10. Every other time Michalak was at either 9 or 10 and the backline failed. Regarding Steyn, I can't wait for him to return. We haven't replaced Barritt yet who was instrumental in our 2007 form. Though Whitehead definately looks promising. I do agree with you about the Du Plessis's. They are talented players but perhaps a little too distruptive. I seriously wonder if Jannie wasn't sulking after Bismarck was rotated to the bench. Their aggression needs to be channeled towards contructive play

      sorryson3 - 2012-04-07 09:33

      Plum would be well advised to take a leaf out of Ian Mac's book, " give me the players ( read BUY for GIVE ) and then we will win ". Sharks Academy " TALENT Scouts " must have it wrong somewhere as currently NO REAL BACKLINE PLAYERS are making any impression save for Lambie and Mvovo. Melville, Fynn & co it's all very well walking cock-a-hoop at the schoolboy festivals but quite simply the proof of the pudding lies in the silverware in the cabinet........ at all levels of the game !!! Take the blinkers off and ditch the superior attitudes, the Empire is crumbling.....look at the dwindling home attendance numbers for starters. Maybe the time is ripe for a new broom to sweep thru the corridors of power at Kings Park !

      Dave - 2012-04-07 10:49

      Interesting comments guys. I also dont agree about McLeod. He gives us fast front foot ball. I agree with the coaching issue. For several seasons now we persist with the bash it up rugby style which may work in the Currie Cup but will never win you the Super rugby title. We only have 2 methods of attack. 1) bash the fringes or first channel 2) skipp passes to Mvovo. Drift defense covers 2 simply. Half committing at rucks n mauls stops nr 1 as we will going diving/driving in and 7 out 10 times give away a penalty. Watch the AB teams and the youngesters every year at the Cheetahs. School boy tactics. draw your tackler and pass, draw and pass and go it running straight. This gives the speedsters a man on man option and Mvovo will win every time. Also the Sharks are crying out for a Captain. Keegan is a great player but is not a leader. Who in that line-up is? Get a backline coach and blood a Captain and better luck next season.

      Shona - 2012-04-10 10:19

      Bismarck is still great. If he wasn't in the team I'm sure we'd get know where (worse than now I mean). We definitely need his strength up front. I'm sure with Beast, Bismarck will be his normal self. Surely playing between Chadwick and Herbst is not the same as Beast and Jannie or even van Staden...they just seem so small and u can see they get pushed over a lot easier. Michalak definitely needs to go! Can't wait to have Lambie and Kanko back

  • Priester - 2012-04-06 14:41

    2010 Blues and Craig Joubert vs. Bulls in Auckland...... I will never forget the endless flow of penalties against the Bulls effectively neutralizing the Bulls. Sharks please KLAP those Blues!!! I support you all the way! Blou Bul Groete!

      David - 2012-04-06 14:48

      We will hammer them next week to restore some our false title hope ;-)

      Selma - 2012-04-06 16:01

      The Blues are placed bottom of the log...................hardly an achievement to beat them. I am glad I am not a Sharks supporter - year in year out, they fail to play to their potential. Their fans, nearly as loyal and crazy as the Bulls' supporters, deserve much much more from their team. I was a Natal supporter in the 70's and eraly 80's - even in the bleak years of playing in the CC B league and getting hammered by the Purple People Eaters - those Natal teams had guts. Maybe there are just too many mercenaries in the side.

  • Leon - 2012-04-06 15:27

    No locks,no scrumhalf or centres,no guts,same old story year in year out

      Rob - 2012-04-06 16:10

      I also do not understand it. Sharks have had an academy for many years, yet they have to borrow players from Griqualand West and France, buy has-beens from the Free State and Lions and end up with a hodgepodge of individual players who do not play together and fight with the ref or opposing players.

      David - 2012-04-06 16:18

      Agreed Tuner. Not enough players coming through the academy. We perform best when our supposed best are away with the Boks

  • Danie - 2012-04-06 15:48

    Disapointed Shark supporter - What a joke, they had no game plan act like robots programme to play rugby, had no idea how to eleminate the opisition or looking for weak points. Sorry I think they should rather quit rygby

  • Frank - 2012-04-06 17:29

    Not a good game, not a good ref, but wait. The hard part of their season is nearly over. For the rest, its yet to come.

      Pierre - 2012-04-07 01:43

      That sounds good, but why do we have to except this one-sided refereeing in NZ? Are touring sides just not going to be allowed to win?

      David - 2012-04-07 11:24

      Stop whinging Pierre. Stormers have just beaten a very good Highlanders side with a kiwi ref

  • Louis Fouis - 2012-04-06 22:07

    The refs are curb now looks like if the players are taking this spectator manipulation to another level.

  • Priester - 2012-04-07 09:11

    @Pierre refer your query on another article. My apology, it may have been somebody else. The change of heart in this game is because I found it very coincidental that the Sharks were time and again penalized on the try line with a try being a good possibility. The Bulls were penalized anywhere on the field and there wasn’t a pattern displayed by Joubert. The bulls were not having a good game therefore my statement that he was fair. Be it as it may, the ref can make or shatter a team without seemingly any consequences. Neutral refs MUST be used. In this regard note a previous post where I suggested Northern Hemisphere refs for the South and Southern Hemisphere refs for the North such as Six Nations and Heineken cup games. PS I still maintain that the Bulls lost against a better team in Cape Town. Blou Bul Groete!

  • aam.coetzee - 2012-04-07 14:21

    The definition of insanity. To do the same thing over and over and expect different results.

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