EISH! Eina! Ouch … This was a sad low for the Sharks. They were as atrocious as the conditions in stormy Wellington but while the weather may lift in the New Zealand capital in a day or two, the doom and gloom will cling to the Durban franchise for far longer.
In the words of Director of Rugby Gary Gold, “This was a performance unacceptable for a franchise as strong as the Sharks.”
The score was 41-0. Six tries to nil. It was the first time in the 21-year history of Super Rugby that the Hurricanes had held an opponent scoreless and it was also the first time that a team had failed to register a point in Super Rugby play-offs, dating back to the inception of the competition in 1996.
Yesterday, social media was awash with strident criticism of a Sharks side that was desperately disappointing. There were 21 missed tackles (this from a side that for much of this competition was the best defensive team through the efforts of no-nonsense defence coach Omar Mouneimne).
Yet in their last round robin match, against the Sunwolves, the Sharks shipped 29 points. Now another 41 … 70 points in two games ….?
It is easy to get carried away in criticism, and if you want hysteria go on to The Sharks’ facebook page and check out the comments), but perhaps we need to look at deeper issues before Gold is hung, drawn and quartered.
Key to this (mis) match at the Cake Tin was the vast discrepancy between the performances of the Hurricanes 9 and 10 and their Sharks’ counterparts.
TJ Perenara was the catalyst for most of the Hurricanes’ tries while flyhalf Beudon Barrett was quite simply sublime. It said a lot that with 20 minutes to go, coach Chris Boyd pulled the pair off to put them into cotton wool ahead of the semi-finals. That was as much an insult to the Sharks as it was recognition by the Hurricanes’ coaching staff of the gems they have at their disposal. Why risk them getting injured when the game was some time before won and lost?
The Sharks did not have similar playmakers in Michael Claassens and Garth April. The latter looked out of his depth and his defence is very concerning. He was pulled off after 55 minutes. April should not be written off but his inexperience and under-performance highlighted the fact that Patrick Lambie is conspicuous by his absence, particularly when you consider that another key Shark, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, has likewise been injured for mot of Super Rugby.
If Reinach and Lambie had played yesterday plus another hugely influential (and injured) Shark in Marcell Coetzee, the dynamic flanker, these confidence-building players would have made a big difference.
Willie le Roux at fullback was another who could have made a positive impact had he played more of his natural game instead of kicking the ball virtually each time he touched it.
Gold said afterwards that the plan had to been a territory game but that the execution of the kicks was poor. TV commentator and former All Black scrumhalf Justin Marshall was astounded that the Sharks continued to kick without rhyme or reason even when they were 30 points down.
It was clear that the while kicking had been a pre-determined option because of the howling wind and blistering rain, this policy became a default for players who did not know what to do with the ball.
Paul Jordaan, the outside centre, did not once receive a pass down the backline.
You can’t blame him for departing for France. He is not alone. JP Pietersen has played his last game for the Sharks, as has Le Roux, Coetzee and hooker Kyle Cooper. All are going overseas.
There is growing speculation that talented back S’bura Sithole, who has been battling for game time this season, is being sought by the Stormers. If he goes it would be a significant loss.
This heavy defeat will hurt the Sharks and their fans but there is also reason to be encouraged. Until this game, the Sharks had been relatively successful against the five NZ teams, winning two matches and losing three by close margins. There has been the emergence of the young Du Preez twins, the continuing excellence of Philip van der Walt and the second-row of Etienne Oosthuizen and Stephan Lewies is growing in promise.
Clutching at straws? Possibly. But you can’t help thinking that the Sharks will look a whole lot better next year if Reinach and Lambie stay clear of injury and play from start to finish.
Sharks: Did not trouble the scorers
Hurricanes: Loni Uhila, James Marshall, Jason Woodward, Vaea Fifita, TJ Perenara, Brad Shields. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (3), Woodward. Penalty: Barrett.
By Mike Greenaway
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