There is no better past-time for a sports fan than kicking a dog when it is down, so it is no surprise that nobody has picked up on what Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder had to say about his team’s 50-point hammering of the Sharks at Kings Park at the weekend.
Sharks fans want blood, understandably, and Director of Rugby Gary Gold has asked for ‘’perspective”, and Blackadder perhaps provided that on Saturday night.
“We were extremely good,” Blackadder beamed. “I can’t talk about the Sharks but I can say that was one of our best performances. I am very proud of that one.”
Indeed at times in the first half it looked like the seven-time champions were going through a “captain’s run” of shadow rugby, with the feeble Sharks reduced to tackle bags.
After the match Gold not only had to defend his team’s lack of performance against the Crusaders’ onslaught but yet again had to explain why a senior player had been sent off for foul play, the latest casualty being former captain Jean Deysel. Gold did not know which way to turn.
“It was not that long ago that the Crusaders got a similar score against them when they played the Chiefs, and look at them now,” the coach pleaded. “It is not the end of the world. We can and will turn this around. The tournament is at the halfway stage and we are still in the top half of the table. We need perspective.”
Gold in his heart will know that “perspective” is a luxury he will not be afforded by Sharks fans. It does not exist in the world of sport. And the beleaguered coach inadvertently said it all when he ironically added: “To fix this we have to tap into the character and experience of our senior players … that are left.”
Deysel will doubtless get a hefty ban when he faces a Sanzar hearing today. A knee to the head does not go down well, and Sanzar’s luminaries have already shown that they have no mercy for South African transgressors. Deysel’s suspension could be in the vicinity of that given to Bismarck du Plessis (four weeks) and Frans Steyn (five weeks).
Gold has spent a good part of this season talking to lawyers, and he agrees that his time should be better spent.
“Look, let’s get one thing straight. This (the red cards) has to stop. Immediately. But we are not a dirty team,” Gold remonstrated. “We spoke at length about this a fortnight ago. Never in my coaching career have I condoned foul play. I don’t think that rugby people out there think we are a bunch of thugs that go out there to hurt people. I understand that the media will run with this, and that is part of the game, but I know that our overall discipline is good and these red cards are isolated incidents.”
You have to admire and respect Gold for publicly defending his players. He has to. As he pointed out, there is still a heck of a lot of Super Rugby to be played, but privately Gold would be disappointed at how his lieutenants have let the team down.
“The distractions are frustrating, this competition is tough enough as it is,” he admitted. “I will have my tough words with the players but there has to be an understanding that as leader of this group I cannot hang my players out to dry. I am still going to go out today and back them. We have the Lions waiting for us.”
The show must indeed go on. Gold knows that it is not an option for the Sharks to feel sorry for themselves. There is not a lot of sympathy out there.
“We have serious questions to answer and have to do some straight talking,” Gold promised. “We have to send a message out to our fans that we can get back on our feet. We have a huge job on our hands. Our focus has to be on going forward and this has to be seen as the wake-up call that it is.”
By Mike Greenaway
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