Sharks edged, but some bright signs
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – It is less than ideal to start your campaign on
the back foot, as the Sharks have just done in Super Rugby 2017, but they would
also be silly to succumb to any unnecessarily drawn-out moping.
The men from Durban, who had held the lead in Brisbane’s
subtropical warmth for generous periods, eventually succumbed 28-26 to the Reds
in an engrossing enough fixture.
Considering that the Queenslanders notched four tries to two
and that Quade Cooper’s place-kicking was more than a bit flaky at times, there
could be no major reason to quibble with the outcome, although the Sharks did
fully warrant their losing bonus point.
It is clear that the 2011 champions, in the doldrums in more
recent times, have set their sights determinedly on revival and they may prove
tough nuts for several other sides to crack at Suncorp Stadium this year.
So the Sharks – not especially used to game one of their
roster being overseas -- still have every reason for optimism as they move
onward to Canberra and the relative luxury of an eight-day turnaround to next
Saturday’s second and final Australian tour match against the Brumbies, who
have shed certain key characters and aren’t hugely tipped to be the force of
old in 2017.
There was, after all, some contentiousness about the
game-tilting try by James Tuttle in the 71st minute, with a
suggestion of a forward pass in the build-up.
Then the tourists had a chance with three minutes left to
snatch back the lead, only for their previously unerring flyhalf and captain
Pat Lambie to drift a long, challenging penalty attempt wide to the right.
Apart from that moment, Lambie had been one of several
Sharks players to look keen and sharp – a particularly healthy sign as his
comeback games toward the end of last season after his horrible concussion
against Ireland had seen him too often tentative and innocuous.
The 26-year-old skipper was a bastion of personal
assuredness at No 10, showing a willingness not to be caught “in the pocket”
too much, and also engaged shrewdly and alertly with referee Nick Briant
It may not be quite a fait accompli, if Lambie continues his
reawakening, that fit-again Handre Pollard of the Bulls simply waltzes back
into the national shirt at all-important pivot in mid-year.
When the Sharks tackle the Brumbies, coach Robert du Preez
may well urge his charges to try to boss territory and possession a bit more –
they only got some 44 percent of the ball on Friday – as they were kept busy in
the tackling department throughout.
Still, Lambie made a reasonable point in his immediate
on-field interview afterwards that he didn’t feel late-game fatigue was a
reason for the reverse; many of the Sharks players appear in a pretty sound
state of conditioning.
There is some work yet to be done in making their lineout
more clinical, and at critical times passes were irritatingly spilled as they
tried to launch speedy hand-to-hand offensives.
But there was also decent collective zeal, industry and
bright support play by the Sharks for generous periods, including a gutsy and
creative showing from raw outside centre Lukhanyo Am.
He is not the biggest No 13 you will ever see, and that can
be a drawback in defence near his own line, although he could hardly be faulted
for commitment as muscular, Fijian-born opposite number Samu Kerevi barrelled
over for two tries.
Locks Ruan Botha and Etienne Oosthuizen put in busy,
physical shifts in the tight-loose, up against seasoned Wallabies in Rob
Simmons and Kane Douglas, and Jean-Luc du Preez – apart from romping over for a
breakaway try as early as the second minute – also demonstrated a decent engine
and ceaseless leg-drive at blindside flank.
The Sharks may be nought-from-one, but there is plenty to
work with …
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