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Team Points
Premier Division
Xerox Golden Lions 10 10 48
Vodacom Blue Bulls 10 8 39
DHL Western Province 10 7 35
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 10 3 24
Cell C Sharks 10 4 22
Steval Pumas 10 3 17
Eastern Province Kings 10 2 12
ORC Griquas 10 1 8
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Sharks have many points to prove


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content, Sharks on 13 Sep 2013 at 13:49
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , ,

As a team that likes to talk about the “process” they are going through, as they become familiar with a new way of playing under a new coaching team, the Sharks seem to be looking for incremental improvements week on week, rather than attempting to create the “perfect performance” right from the get go. This weekend, against Griquas, there will need to be several such improvements evident if they hope to emerge with the log points they need.

You can slice it any way you want, but the reality is that last week’s forward showing against Western Province simply wasn’t good enough, particularly not in the first half. The game plan that we see evolving under new Director of Rugby Brendan Venter very strongly emphasises “smart rugby”; it’s a game based on territorial dominance via the boot and on attacking in the “sensible half” of the field. As we saw at Newlands, if there are two things that can completely annihilate that plan, then a dominated pack and poor kick execution would certainly fit the bill.

The Sharks were guilty of both last weekend and the spotlight will, this week, be very firmly on the pack – a pack that has struggled to get on top of opposition throughout the first round. That’s understandable, given the loss of an entire Super Rugby set of forwards to either the Boks or injury, but if those “next best” players are to continue to be considered worthy deputies to the Boks – and suitable options at Super Rugby level next year – the time to step up is long overdue. Much of the pre-game hype that I’ve read is looking to young Pieter-Steph du Toit and the impact he’s likely to have on the game. I’m less convinced; a young lock playing in a somewhat unfamiliar jersey, in his first game in three months, is unlikely to be able to change the fortunes of the pack on his own. Any impact that Pieter-Steph does have, I feel, is going to depend on the sort of platform that the other tight forwards are able to provide.

Wiehahn Herbst, Kyle Cooper and Edwin Hewitt added huge intensity when they came on against Province and we will need to see that level of effort, plus an additional 10% right from the start, against Griquas. The Sharks simply cannot afford to concede possession at the set piece and at the breakdown the way they did against Province and with Griquas fetcher Marnus Schoeman an ever-present threat on the ground, the extent to which the tight forwards manage to get themselves to those breakdown points with enough time and using the correct technique, to nullify his threat, will determine the ultimate direction of the game.

The Sharks have been found wanting, too, in defence, particularly against unstructured attack. Turnover ball leads to exactly that and there’s going to have to be a huge emphasis on tightening up the lines and sticking to the structures, as tempting as the “flashy intercept” might be. A guy like SP Marais needs to really come to the party here, after a very iffy display on defence against the unpredictable Province back three.

Even with the forwards being beaten, though, one fancies that Province might not have done quite so well had it not been for some frankly brainless kicking from the Sharks and it’s hear that we perhaps come to the biggest factor – and the most important individual – that may decide whether this game is one or lost. Butch James has not looked the part yet this season and one fancies that he’s the guy, more than any other, who needs to put his hand up the most tomorrow, who needs to show the biggest improvement in his individual contribution in order for the Sharks to taste victory. We’ve seen the sorts of things that James can do with the ball, but we also know that his propensity to over-complicate things when a simple solution would suffice can be costly. It’s time for James to deliver the sort of commanding performance to emphasise why Fred Zeilinga is his understudy in this team and not vice versa.



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