The Sharks have had an early break-up day because of absenteeism due to sickness. When they return next week they know that they have to pull up their socks in certain departments.
DURBAN – Sean Everitt is a school teacher by trade, so if he had to pen a report card for his Sharks class now that the Super Rugby Unlocked term has closed, it might go something like this.
“An enthusiastic class that do their best, but lapses in concentration are preventing better results. Presentation of work can be untidy and more care is required if potential is to be reached. Can do better … Promoted to Currie Cup!”
Unfortunately, the Sharks have had an early break-up day because of absenteeism due to sickness, and when they return next week they know that they have to pull up their socks in certain departments if they are going to outstrip their peers.
So let’s look at the pros and cons of the Sharks’ Super Rugby Unlocked campaign that saw them narrowly beat the Lions, lose heavily to the Bulls, then bounce back with wins over the Pumas, Cheetahs and Griquas, with this week’s match against the Stormers cancelled due to Covid19.
Inevitably, rating the Sharks in November will have the context of their dazzling displays in February and March, when they hit the Super Rugby ground at a sprint.
But six months of lockdown took the wind out of their sails and also, to be fair, relieved them of a handful of key players who capitalised on the free transfer window.
While experienced backs Andre Esterhuizen and Louis Schreuder have naturally been missed, I think the Sharks have been hit harder by the loss from the forward ranks of tenacious Tyler Paul and burly Juan Schoeman, mostly because they have been thin in the engine room since last year, so losing a couple more hasn’t helped; and then came the injury to Thomas du Toit.
Remember that last year the Sharks lost some bruising beef in Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez, Ruan Botha, Akker van der Merwe, Philip van der Walt and Coenie Oosthuizen.
My feeling is that the Sharks are lacking grunt up front – they are short of a hulking lock and an imposing prop.
I understand the lively, counter-attacking game the Sharks want to play – and boy do they have the backs to go that route – but you still need to generate forward momentum, and that doesn’t happen when your set-piece is creaking and you are outgunned at the breakdown (of the Seven teams, the Sharks were last when it came to Super Rugby Unlocked’s “rucks won” category).
The massive positive is that the Sharks showed tremendous grit to win very tight games against the Lions, Cheetahs and Griquas – if a team doesn’t have the stomach for a fight, they have nothing, and the Sharks have oodles of this priceless commodity.
Also pleasing is that Everitt blooded a number of young players through brave rotation, meaning he has grown his depth going into the Currie Cup.
And if I was to single out a player who has significantly advanced his reputation, it would be the effervescent Marius Louw, the centre who has done an impressive job in filling Esterhuizen’s considerable boots.