Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer
A 48-point swing against the Jaguares … it doesn’t say everything about the Sharks in Super Rugby 2020, but it also says an awful lot.
When they last played the Argentineans at Kings Park, they were routed 51-17 in the final season of Robert du Preez’s tenure as head coach last year.
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On Saturday, in a game that would have made their fans nervous in advance as they’d just come off their four-match Australasian tour, the side now under Sean Everitt’s charge did everything that could have been expected of them, and then some, in a 33-19 avenging triumph.
Simply overcoming last season’s beaten finalists would have been the primary objective of the Sharks’ brains trust, considering the challenging backdrop to the fixture, but doing so with daylight to spare reflected superbly on the squad’s clear hunger to prosper this year.
There was even a strong likelihood at one point that the Durban outfit, once they’d opened up a 33-12 advantage in the 52nd minute and rattled the Jaguares with the pace and flair of their play, would add a bonus point to their booty.
But the visitors struck back in the final quarter when, Sharks captain Lukhanyo Am candidly conceded afterwards, “our legs almost gave in”.
That was entirely understandable, but a further sign of the spirit driving them came when they defended their line like trojans – S’bu Nkosi to the fore with a desperate try-saving intervention right on the chalk – to also, and perhaps importantly in the longer run, deprive the Jaguares of a losing bonus point as they hunted an extra converted try that would have sneaked them within seven points on the final scoreboard.
Not that the South Americans would have deserved it: but for the effects of their long-haul travel fatigue toward the end, the Sharks would almost certainly have put this one to bed with even greater comfort.
The result nevertheless meant that they moved into top spot on the overall table with five wins from six matches and 20 points, even if four teams immediately below them – Chiefs, Brumbies, Crusaders and Stormers – would all be in range to overtake them if they won their game in hand.
On that theme, there is still no let-up for the Sharks for another fortnight, in which they entertain two teams from that quartet (the Stormers next Saturday and then Chiefs a week later) before a first and much-needed bye.
Can they survive another important two matches using the vast majority of their presumably tiring “first team” troops?
That will be something for Everitt and his allies to contemplate in some earnest, but there will be a good chance, you’d think, that they will want to throw the kitchen sink – so deploying best possible personnel -- in their first tussle of the competition with domestic arch-rivals the Stormers.
Although the Capetonians will enter the game contrastingly rejuvenated by a weekend off, it doesn’t always prove an asset; teams have been known to be a little stale after a bye.
The Stormers have also increasingly been surrendering their Springbok pack heavyweights to injury, limiting a known engine-room strength, and the absence of that robust workaholic Pieter-Steph du Toit from their blindside flank jersey will be especially severely felt in the derby.
There were deeply contrasting fortunes in the latest round for the two highveld sides, with the Lions getting a 37-17 thumping from the Rebels in Melbourne, but the Bulls engineering a praiseworthy second-half blitz to turn a 5-13 deficit against the Highlanders at Loftus into a handsome 38-13 outcome in their favour.
It was their first win in five attempts this year and the full house of log points saw them soar – relatively speaking, anyway – to 11th on the overall log, now a point clear of the Lions and also superior to the Highlanders, Waratahs and Sunwolves.
They needed that tonic … starting immediately now is their trek across the Indian Ocean.
Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):
Friday: Chiefs v Hurricanes, 08:05. Saturday: Blues v Lions, 05:25; Sunwolves v Crusaders, 07:35; Reds v Bulls, 10:15; Sharks v Stormers, 15:05. Sunday: Jaguares v Highlanders, 01:00; Brumbies v Waratahs, 07:05. Bye: Rebels.
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