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A promising start: Sharks vs Lions

Written by Udo Lütge (pastorshark)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content, Sharks on 3 Aug 2015 at 13:35
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , ,

My sons and I headed to Woodburn Stadium on Friday night, together with half the district, curious about many of the new faces in the Sharks jersey. We were hoping to see some promising signs from the Sharks before the start of a brand new Currie Cup season… and we were not disappointed.

But before I get to the rugby, I must say this: it was truly wonderful to be able to watch the Sharks play at Woodburn again. The Stadium only has a capacity of about 12 000 and, while the grass embankments were about half full, the grandstand was pretty packed – I estimate that there were about 7 000 spectators…and for a VERY chilly winter’s evening, that was not half bad. What made the experience at Woodburn so enjoyable was that, sitting on the grandstand, you had current and former Sharks players and administrators all around you. There were no fancy suites and the informal mingling between fans and the people directly involved at our Union was such a pleasure to experience.

But I digress – and so: to the rugby! We got to our seats about a minute after kick-off and were treated to some very enterprising play right from the start. I am not going to write a detailed description of the game itself – that can be read on other sites (if you have a look at the comment thread of the game itself you will find some links to those sort of write-ups). I do want to reflect on what I saw though. And the best place to start is the very beginning. Both the Sharks and the Lions came to Maritzburg intent to play an enterprising game. Kickable penalty after kickable penalty was kicked to the corners. For the first 10 minutes the Sharks looked very good – they were sharp, they came up with some enterprising moves and, when the Lions countered, the defence was very pleasing. The first few meaningful attacks were good to see, but our usual problem of finishing reared its head pretty much immediately and remained a problem for the entire first half. Some of you commented at that stage that you were hearing “same old, same old” and complained about the knocks and the lineout issues…and it was pretty much like that. Some good hands created space, we were held up in the corner, the ball came out quickly enough and was spread the other way…until Oosthuizen knocked on. Chance gone! We kicked a penalty to the corner…great attacking opportunity…until the lineout throw went well over the head of the jumper. As the first half went on, the frustration in the crowd grew as such missed opportunities increased and there was a real concern that the Lions would run away with things. On the flip side, we did set up more phases, our recycling was better and our scrum was relatively solid.

Let me summarise the performance of the first half as I saw it.

1. There was positive intent – and the ball was not just thrown around willy nilly; we saw some intelligent moves and good hands by most of the backs.

2. The ball was hardly kicked in general play in the first half (in fact, in the whole game), except for the odd attacking chip kick and one or two up and unders. I don’t think Michael Claassens kicked a single ball.

3. Overall, the passing was good and accurate. There was one superb long pass by Andre Esterhuizen to put Charlie Mayeza in at the corner.

4. The one on one defence was very good. I hardly saw a missed tackle, though the wings, Izaacs and Mayeza did look a bit suspect in this regard. The midfield defence and defence around the fringes was excellent. The one concern about our defensive system is that the Lions twice created space out wide for their wings to score without a hand being laid on them. The third Lions try out wide in the first half was the result of a missed tackle.

5. Our scrums were reasonable in the first half. Chadwick and Adriaanse didn’t look hugely impressive in the scrums but they just about held their own and we weren’t subjected to the sight of a rapidly retreating Sharks scrum (which was rather novel against these Lions props).

6. The lineouts were rather concerning in the first half, as we missed several on our own throw. It seemed to me that the problems was with the calling or communication, as this area improved markedly in the second half when Pieter-Steph du Toit was on the field. From that I conclude that the blame can probably not placed at Hadebe’s door alone. In fact, once during the first half we lost a lineout that ended up going over the top because not a single Sharks player jumped! That area has to be sorted out, especially as I don’t think we will be able to count on PSdT playing much Currie Cup rugby.

7. It was a bit difficult to see exactly what was going on at the breakdown without the luxury of replays. We didn’t concede very many turnovers in general play, but managed to win quite a few, so that was good. I didn’t see much of Majola, but he did seem to disrupt the Lions a few times. Philip van der Walt had a solid first outing and we saw a lot of him in the tackle area and at the breakdown (though his red hair may have helped with that). In the first half, Jean-Luc du Preez wasn’t very prominent, though that was probably because of the role he played at 7. In the second half he was much more prominent when he was shifted to 8.

8. Michael Claassens was very solid at scrumhalf and showed us that he has a good pass and clears the ball nice and quickly at the base. He wasn’t very flashy, but just maybe that is good thing! He certainly didn’t make any bloopers, so I am happy to put a tick next to his name.

9. Joe Pietersen was ok at flyhalf. He scored the first try. Some of the write-ups describe him as putting in a deft grubber, but that is a bit misleading. The Lions won their own lineout ball and passed it to Mnisi as first receiver. The pass was low, he stumbled in trying to pick it up and the ball popped up out of his hands. Pietersen kicked it through, the ball bounced up nicely into his hands and he was in under the posts. It was good work, but opportunistic. The rest of his game was a bit difficult to evaluate. He didn’t make any obvious errors, but also didn’t do much to catch the eye. His distribution was good but he did get held up a few times in the tackle.

10. The centres defended well. Both Esterhuizen and Jordaan put in some good hits, with Esterhuizen especially monstering a few of the Lions players. Esterhuizen put in that pearler of a pass and his distribution in general looked good. He didn’t bash it up too often, but when he did he took some stopping. He was the most impressive centre on the night and didn’t drop any balls. Jordaan was ok. He tackled well and showed good hands a few times, but otherwise had a relatively quiet game. I spoke to him briefly afterwards and he said, “It was ok…not great, but ok…” and I think that is about spot on for him. He did say, though, that he is very happy to be back on the rugby field and it was good to see him there.

11. The wings in the first half would probably not have done enough to force their way into our starting lineup. Mayeza scored a very good try, getting over in the corner despite having much work to do. Izaacs doesn’t look like the smallest wing, but he didn’t do much. He looked a little suspect on defence and made a mistake or two on attack, though he did put in one nice run.

12. SP was…well, SP I suppose. He showed some good touches, made one great break, was more solid under the high ball than he has been in recent times…but there was also the odd frustrating moment – running a million miles sideways on one occasion didn’t endear him to the crowd. All in all he would probably have earned a 6 out of 10 for that performance, so it is a reasonable start to the season for him.

We were down 12-21 at half time and we deserved to be so. The Lions showed pace on the outside and most of what has helped them to perform so well over the last 12 months. The Sharks, of course, changed just about their whole line-up at half-time. Monde Hadebe stayed on at hooker and Jean-Luc du Preez moved from 7 to 8. Other than that, the whole side was replaced. I didn’t see Wiehan Hay in the second half, but heard that he had come on as a first-half substitute for a while. I missed that so unfortunately can’t tell you more about who he replaced and what the reasons were.

My excitement for the season ahead – and I was excited by what I saw on Friday night – stems from the second half performance. I said in the comments on the night that this second group of players showed far more urgency than the first. The ball in hand approach continued, the good defence was even more impressive and the Sharks pretty much completely dominated the second 40. At one stage the Lions even departed from the policy of kicking for the corner and took a shot at posts to try and put some daylight between them and an ever more dominant Sharks side.

My comments about the second half look like this:

1. I was most excited by what I saw from our very young front row! This was the first time I saw young Juan Schoeman…and what I saw makes me wonder how the hell the Bulls let him go. I think we have made a very good signing there! Both he and Thomas du Toit were prominent in the loose and tight-loose exchanges, they put in some good tackles and both broke the Lions line on more than one occasion. Their carries around the fringes caught the eye! I kept a close eye on the scrums and for the first 20 minutes of the second half they held their own…and for the last 20 minutes they absolutely monstered the Lions scrum! It was a pleasure to behold…but I must confess that I don’t know exactly what the cause of the dominance in the last quarter was. It could have been the fact that the Lions replaced their props and that our two youngsters completely dominated the replacement. I suspect, though, that the truly dominant phase towards the end coincided with the replacement of Monde Hadebe. As far as I can tell, Franco Marais was not there and Hadebe was replaced by Gerhard Engelbrecht…can that be? Whatever the case was, after that replacement we were completely dominant at scrum time.

2. The second thing that every spectator and his dog could clearly see, was how much we will miss PSdT when he is fit to play. My word, the boy can play this game. He took charge of the lineouts and the change from the first half was total. He was all over the place in general play, made line breaks, showed deft touches in the offload and dominated his opponents. His defence was rock solid and on one occasion he put in a try-saving tackle when the Lions had a 2-on-1 and he was the last defender. I know this won’t be that popular on here, but I really will miss him, I am sad to see him go and I was actually quite proud to see how many of the spectators shared kind words with him after the game and wished him all the best for the future. I had a short chat with him and he was appreciative of the supporters and struck me as a humble, down to earth good oke. I hate the fact that he is off to those guys down south…but I am glad I got to see him play in a Sharks jersey one more time.

3. The loose trio also impressed with some good carries and strong defence. Du Preez was prominent at 8 and Kleynhans and McDuling did some good work. I didn’t see many turnovers in the second half, but then again, the Lions hardly had any ball in the second half!

4. Ungerer was also very impressive. His passing game is probably not quite that of Classens, but he showed some good touches, made electric breaks – one was especially impressive and only last ditch defence kept and 5mm or so kept the Sharks from scoring!

5. Cronje was ok…my comments about him are probably similar to those about Pietersen. He didn’t kick much, except for attacking chips; his distribution was quite good; he made two nice breaks…but sometimes he got caught with the ball and on one occasion at least, he was a bit slow.

6. The centres did their job. They tackled well, they showed some good touches. Although he put in one or two HUGE hits, Mjekevu didn’t necessarily convince me that he is a 13. He overran the attacker on at least two occasions and I don’t know whether his running lines are what they should be. He did do one or two things that stood out, though, so I would like to see more of him. I would also like to see him on the wing, seeing as some of our wings didn’t do much to convince me that they are the real deal.

7. Speaking of the wings, Odwa was his usual solid self…but it was Sburra Sithole who continued to impress. Everyone in the crowd enjoyed him putting one Lions defender squarely on his backside when he bumped him off…and he scored what was ultimately the winning try (after another commanding scrum and a good pass by Ungerer) with a superb finish!

8. At fullback Garth April didn’t really impress and I don’t think he will displace SP…but he deserves more chances than just this one I reckon.

The second half, though, was about more than just individual performances – there was an urgency, there was a continuity and what I can only describe as “gelling” that I haven’t seen in a while from a Sharks side…and there was a dominance of the Lions that was beautiful to watch.

I know this write-up has been quite long already, but there is one more aspect I would like to report. After the game the players were available to chat, sign autographs, take photos…and it was a wonderful experience for my boys (and for me, to be honest!). The guys really took time for everyone there and the crowd loved it!

Well done, Sharks! I hope the Woodburn thing happens again soon…and I wish you all the best for the Currie Cup. I am certainly looking forward to it. Keep building on this…


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