Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Call it their ultra-flaky fortnight.
weeks on from their champagne showing against the Lions at Emirates
Airline Park, the Sharks suddenly look dangerously close to dead in the
water as far as any title-challenging possibilities in Super Rugby 2019
In what must be about as shocking a two-game home
spell as the Durban faithful can remember in the competition, successive
defeats to the less-than-juggernaut Jaguares and Reds have left
increasingly under-scrutiny Robert du Preez’s charges in some danger of
the wooden spoon in the SA conference, come the end of ordinary season.
for them, the group and tournament as a whole – now just beyond the
midway stage of pre-knockout activity -- has been wildly unpredictable
Yes, the Sharks are still clinging to a well-stocked, wishy-washy peloton, if you like.
on what was anything but a Good Friday for them, the latest hammer blow
(crashing 21-14 to the resilient, organised and at very least equally
physical and no-nonsense Queenslanders) opens up the very real threat of
a slide to obscurity from here.
By banking a miserly one log
point from the pair of Kings Park games that had looked so inviting on
paper, and conceding 10 tries (seven to the Argentineans last week), the
Sharks head off imminently on a tough Australasian tour riddled by
self-doubt and insecurity.
With a record of four victories and
five defeats, they are the only SA conference outfit currently showing a
negative win-loss ratio, although they retain a mid-table status
(third) that could be short-lived – what with the Stormers in action at
home to the Brumbies on Saturday.
Bleak-faced captain Louis
Schreuder admitted in his latest immediate post-game television
interview that there was a “spiral effect … mistake after mistake”
against the Reds.
The Sharks, it must be said, created enough
chances to have prevailed in this one, but butchered several try-scoring
opportunities through last passes going astray or other errors rooted
either in clumsiness or over-eagerness.
They also continued a
particularly worrisome penchant for missing key first-time tackles that
allowed Reds attackers to punch holes over the advantage line, including
several around the flyhalf channel where Robert du Preez jnr is well
less than on top of his game defensively.
Indeed, the decision to
only push slippery game-breaker Curwin Bosch into the No 10 role just
before the hour mark, when Du Preez was put out of his relative misery
and benched, was criticised afterwards by SuperSport pundit and former
home-town icon John Smit.
But the Springbok World Cup-winning
captain, trying hard to remain upbeat, did add that he felt the Sharks
going abroad at this juncture was potentially welcome: “It is a chance
to get away from the noise … to stick together in (a tour environment).”
Although much of it was also fatally indelicate, there was
enough huff and puff in this match – much more absent against the
Jaguares – to suggest that all is not yet surrendered by the team in
The Sharks have shown before that they can defy the
odds across the Indian Ocean, with last season a pretty recent example:
they were only really whipped in one match (Rebels) but beat the Blues,
only lost sickeningly late to the Hurricanes (38-37) and also earned a
losing bonus point against the Brumbies.
This time, it is only a
three-game itinerary, but all of the Waratahs, Crusaders and Chiefs – in
that order -- nevertheless look formidable opponents and, even when
they return home, the Sharks’ run-in remains a near-stinker: there is
probably a better than even chance that the Sharks fall irreversibly
from the finals series radar in the next three or four weeks.
altogether more positive South African development on Friday was the
Lions’ contrasting steeliness in their 23-17 triumph over the Chiefs in
They remarkably kept the Mooloo Men scoreless in their
own stronghold for an hour, as they assembled a 20-0 cushion themselves,
although they had to hang on grimly in the final quarter to ward off a
valiant, fast-paced fightback from the hosts.
There has been some
tumult in the Lions’ camp this week, including the sudden return home
of coach Swys de Bruin for largely undisclosed reasons, and their
starting line-up was also altered – almost certainly for the better – at
the eleventh hour, as supposedly “semi-rested” core figures like
Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies instead ran out at the beginning (they’d
first been named as subs) and were influential in the gradual head of
It was also of enormous value to have Warren
Whiteley reinstated from several weeks of injury layoff as No 8 and
skipper; he put in an inspired shift for a rusty player and was
especially effective for his skills and gumption when roaming in wide
positions on the park.
The Lions close their tour against the
Crusaders next Friday, and may just decide on that daunting occasion to
finally sit out some overworked stalwarts and throw certain second-tier
figures into the fray before regrouping back on the Highveld for the
home straight …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing