Sharks back from bitter-sweet tour
Durban - There was bad news for the Sharks as they wended their way home from New Zealand with their opponents over the next two Saturdays — the Hurricanes and Jaguares — showing irresistible weekend form.
The Sharks, starting to finally find some balance to their rugby but without the possession and territory to add the winning touches, went down 24-22 to the log-leading Chiefs on Friday and then left on the long trek home hours later.
They are now back in Durban, tired, sore and happy with their win over the champion Highlanders but frustrated that they were unable to turn close games against the Blues and Chiefs into wins.
“We picked up six log points on tour and we are reasonably happy with that but our discipline did let us down at crucial stages,” said captain Keegan Daniel.
He said that the Sharks’ emphasis had been on improving their attack and outscoring the log-leading Chiefs, and the most potent attacking team in the competition, by three tries to two was encouraging.
But the Sharks now have to contend with the bizarre draw and face the ridiculous challenge of meeting the high quality Hurricanes outfit at King’s Park on Saturday before immediately setting off for the Argentine where they play the Jaguares a week later. They then make their third long-haul flight in successive weeks when they return to Durban to meet the Southern Kings (May 21) followed by their second bye of the tournament and the June international break.
The weekend form of the Hurricanes and the Jaguares would have done little to improve their travel blues. The Hurricanes, with former Sharks coach John Plumtree in charge of their forwards, thumped the Lions 50-17 — scoring seven tries to three — at Ellis Park while the Jaguares were in spectacular form in ending their seven-match losing streak with a 73-27 win over the hapless Southern Kings in Buenos Aires.
The Hurricanes’ confidence will now be at all-time high after their stunning win in Johannesburg and while the Sharks are unpacking and then repacking their suitcases for the Argentine, the Jaguares will be enjoying a weekend bye.
It was a disastrous weekend for the South African franchises with the Stormers, Lions, Sharks, Cheetahs and Kings all losing while only the Bulls, up against the Force in Perth, picked up a win.
There are some snatches of good news for the Sharks. The Lions’ defeat, and the bonus point won against the Chiefs on Friday, enabled the Sharks to make up some ground in their African conference. They are now five points behind the Lions and the two teams have still to meet at Ellis Park.
It now seems that the Sharks will have flyhalf and captain Pat Lambie for the rest of the Super Rugby tournament.
Lambie, recovering from shoulder surgery, was scheduled to return for the trip to Buenos Aires next week but he now says he hopes to be in the squad to face the Hurricanes on Saturday.
Lambie, in a race to ready himself for the three-Test series against the Irish, has been taking contact for the past fortnight and said he was fit and ready to return this week if selected.
Coach Gary Gold is unlikely to rush him into the starting line-up, particularly as young Garth April has shown showed encouraging form at flyhalf in recent weeks, but Lambie could be used off the bench. This would leave him with just two games — against the Jaguares and the Kings — to impress new Springbok coach Allister Coetzee ahead of the June internationals.