Now up-tempo Sharks can tour with confidence

    2020-02-01 07:02

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - Execution? More than a little scratchy at times, as you might expect for game one in a record early start to Super Rugby.

    Desire? Intent? Signs of a new, more skills-driven philosophy? Tick all those boxes without major reservation.

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    The main thing is that the Sharks, just too fast on their feet for the willing Bulls in a second half that was unrecognisably better than the broadly butterfingered first, banked a precious home derby triumph (23-15) on Friday night to set themselves up in the ideal way for a four-match tour of Australasia.

    It was absolutely vital that the Durban-based side get out of the 2020 blocks at Kings Park with a win, however it might be manufactured, considering the key little cushion it would give them on an overseas venture where marked success can never be taken for granted by South African sides.

    Having done the business, with a mixture of sublime and sloppy, Sean Everitt's new-look charges are entitled to feel that a minimum haul of perhaps two from four against - in order - the Highlanders, Hurricanes, Rebels and Reds would set them up appealingly for a charge toward the playoffs, with a lot of activity then remaining for them back on South African soil.

    Surprise, surprise, the two first-up fixtures in New Zealand shape as the tougher of the quartet, but keep in mind that the Highlanders are the lone team in the competition to have a first-round bye, so the particularly long trek to Dunedin for next Friday's tussle is at least offset by the knowledge that their hosts could just enter it the rustier.

    The Sharks seemed to have that affliction themselves, early on against the Bulls, frequent lapses in concentration going a long way to explaining why they changed ends 6-9 down, evergreen flyhalf Morne Steyn having shown all his bag-load of wisdom to make sense out of the relative chaos by keeping the visitors in charge as much as he could off his educated right boot.

    But if the Durban faithful (albeit hardly a bumper crowd yet) badly wanted to witness a Sharks crew made of sterner stuff this year, they got their wish in the second period as the Bulls' legs turned gradually more leaden in the summer humidity - clearly not always enjoying the penchant of an array of home-town athletes in the wider positions to run the ball out with great spirit and enterprise at times from notably deep.

    As expected, the back three of Aphelele Fassi, S'bu Nkosi and a consistently bristling, jet-shoed Makazole Mapimpi were the major drivers in that regard, and seem set to keep defences heavily taxed at all points of the Super Rugby compass this season.

    Mapimpi appeared to be operating beyond the sound barrier whether as a ball-carrier or back-tracking tackler, the long-legged fullback Fassi has added a certain, welcome abrasiveness to his galloping repertoire, while muscular Nkosi put various, mass fumblers on the night to shame with his brilliant receipt of a cross-kick, quite tightly hemmed in at the corner, to press the first of the two Sharks tries.

    But in a further demonstration that blinding speed can come from a wider range of sources in their midst, exciting back-up scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba, who turned 21 less than two weeks ago, made the devilish late snipe that finally put the result beyond doubt with a minute or two left on the clock.

    It was a slightly cruel score, if you were Bulls-inclined, because Pote Human’s essentially rebuilding outfit had arguably done enough to warrant the consolation of a losing bonus point, which was snatched from their grasp with the elementary conversion that ensured an eight-point gap at the final whistle.

    Their own next assignment isn't easy, either: another on-the-road derby against the Stormers, and it is only after a subsequent, not especially welcome bye straight afterwards that they get the chance to show they could be tough nuts to crack at beloved Loftus when the Blues go there.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Saturday, 22 February 2020
    • Rebels v Sharks, Mars Stadium 05:45
    • Chiefs v Brumbies, FMG Stadium Waikato 08:05
    • Reds v Sunwolves, Suncorp Stadium 10:15
    • Stormers v Jaguares, Cape Town 15:05
    • Bulls v Blues, Loftus Versfeld 17:15
    Friday, 28 February 2020
    • Highlanders v Rebels, Forsyth Barr Stadium 08:05
    • Waratahs v Lions, Bankwest Stadium 10:15
    Saturday, 29 February 2020
    • Hurricanes v Sunwolves, McLean Park 05:45
    • Reds v Sharks, Suncorp Stadium 10:15
    • Stormers v Blues, Cape Town 15:05
    • Bulls v Jaguares, Loftus Versfeld 17:15


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