Sharks know where to focus
Gavin Rich - SuperSport.com
Durban - The Sharks should be pleased that this week is an early bye for them in Super Rugby as they have plenty to think about and mull over after their first match.
Well, perhaps that should be reworded. The Sharks know exactly what they need to focus on if they want to recover from their opening 26-19 defeat to their now regular nemesis, the Lions. But it is going to require a plenty of thought because although it is a specific area and concentrated area that is creating the problem, namely the tight five, it is a crucial aspect of any team that wants to challenge for silverware. And it is not easy to fix.
The sight of the Sharks pack back-peddling in the scrums in the first half in Johannesburg would have brought back horrible memories for Sharks fans for whom the defeat to Western Province in last year’s Currie Cup final is not such a distant memory. The Sharks were in fact outplayed by WP two weeks before that too, in a league game, and the two poor performances at forward led to comprehensive defeats both times.
The Sharks managed to stay in the game quite well at Ellis Park, and with a bit of luck they could have grabbed a draw at the end, when they were pressing hard for a try. That they made some profit from the scraps of possession they did enjoy, and did it from a position where they enjoyed little go-forward ball, should give them some hope. Robert du Preez was good in his first game in the black and white, the likes of Makazole Mapimpi and Sbu Nkosi were alert to the opportunities that came their way. Unfortunately those were too few and far between, but we saw enough to suggest that if they can sort out the pack, then the Durbanites may have something going for them and a strong challenge for silverware isn’t such a pipe dream.
But those Sharks players, fans or coaches who believe that the forward problem is not a potentially crippling one are living in denial. The truth is that while the Sharks did stay in the game, and could have won, realistically a win never looked likely and the Lions could have won more handsomely. There have been three games in a row now where the forwards have misfired horribly, and a remedy is required quickly.
A partial answer will be to restore Beast Mtawarira to the front row. The Springbok has spent a lot of time in recent months on what can best be described as mystery personal leave (a mystery because no-one has explained it) and has started the season late, but he did make a difference when he came onto the field in the second half against the Lions.
The absence of the other Bok, Coenie Oosthuizen, is however something that the Sharks are going to have to live for a while longer. It will be recalled that Oosthuizen’s ankle was smashed in a gang tackle early in the test match against Ireland in Dublin last November, and he won’t be expected back in the game until the Super Rugby season has at least half run it’s course.
There was some interest from the Bok management in Thomas du Toit being retreaded to tighthead but his switch from the left to the right side of the scrum so far hasn’t come off. Du Toit struggled on the other side of the scrum against Wilco Louw in the domestic decider and he struggled again in a different jersey against the Lions.
Ross Geldenhuys is an experienced player and is on the Sharks books. He played well for the Sharks after moving from the Southern Kings in the initial stages of the Currie Cup, but he also took a step backwards towards the close of the domestic season, and in particular the final, where his nemesis was WP’s equally experienced JC Janse van Rensburg.
Otherwise the front-row cupboard looks a bit bare for the Sharks and it is hard to see how they are going to solve their problems beyond perhaps starting with Mtawarira when the Waratahs ride into town for the first home match on 3 March.
Not that the front-row is necessarily the Sharks’ only or biggest problem. Etienne Oosthuizen was often criticised for giving away penalties but the Sharks have missed their former stalwarts grunt and physicality since he moved overseas. Skipper Ruan Botha and Stephan Lewies are both good locks but neither of them is the driving grinder that Oosthuizen was, and reserve lock Hyron Andrews is also essentially a No 5.
With the Sharks boasting a plethora of loose-forwards, one solution may be to shift Dan du Plessis from the back row to the second row. It was something that Gary Gold was giving serious consideration to when he was Sharks coach and it is definitely something that should be considered as the Bok does possess the attributes required in the absence of Oosthuizen.
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