The Sharks were welcomed onto the pitch warmly on Saturday in their clash against the Blue Bulls. Conditions were fair and the atmosphere was tense at the kick off everyone was hoping for the best for the boys in black. The first half was extremely physical and the contest in the scrum was huge.
A low scoring game is always a sign of a tight contest and this was no exception, however both teams were, for lack of a better word, boring. The Sharks game style was tedious and one dimensional as well as without much depth, causing a longing for the return of the Sharks of 2014.
The style of Sharks Rugby at the moment is almost cruel, in that it entices fans with a running game as they drive out of their own half and then they disappoint by kicking the ball away as soon as they get across the halfway line. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they will never secure a win with this tactic.
One extremely entertaining aspect of the Sharks game was that Willem Alberts seemed to take on the role of full back. He shocked and surprised as he hung back for cover defence and stayed strong under the high ball. The man was just everywhere and if they had 14 men on the field with half of his tenacity, intensity and commitment, there would have been no contest.
A few others that stood out were; the always impactful Cobus Reinach, hardworking S’bura Sithole and try scoring Marcell Coetzee. The absence of commitment from the rest of the team was evident, and at this stage of the competition the lack of Springboks can no longer be an excuse. Individuals do not make a team, clearly something else is missing and Gary Gold and his team need to work harder to fill in the blanks.
The Sharks week of defensive training paid off somewhat as the boys did well to keep out the Bulls expected phase play, but an expansion of their game exposed the Sharks weakness, leading to the try scored by Francois Hougaard.
Discipline continues to be an issue for the Sharks, yes there were no yellow cards this game, but discipline goes beyond being sent off the field, it plays a huge part in the breakdowns as well. This lacked on the pitch and resulted in the boys conceding 4 penalties which ultimately put the nail in the coffin and lead to the Bulls victory.
The Bulls are now in a strong position at the top of the South African conference. A win against the Stormers at Newlands next week may put them in an interesting position to win the tournament.
At the moment the Sharks are unfortunately no more than a few big names on paper with no performance to show for it. Hopefully, through retrospection in their bye this week, they can gain some confidence and improve on their game plan to take to the upcoming Australian derbies.
The talent is there and the fans know it, everyone will be hopeful that the men in black will rise to their potential to once again be one of the best. For now we must stay positive, for there is no gain without loss and they can only learn and grow from their shortfall. After all, as Napoleon Hill once said; “Great men reached their greatest success by making a single step beyond their greatest failure”, perhaps for the Sharks, Australia will be that step.
By Sam Wilson