Sharks cannot afford this load-shedding among the forwards
There's a lack of physicality among SA Super Rugby teams, but the Sharks have a window to turn things around
The Super Rugby tournament may not have reached the halfway stage but there are warning signs in Durban that can’t be ignored.
The Sharks didn’t play this past week and it’s a break they desperately needed. After two consecutive losses against the Stormers and the Bulls, it was a much-needed siesta. They also have a serious mental test ahead of their clash against the Rebels at home on Saturday.
The Sharks switched off against the Australian teams last season and the Rebels were one of those who capitalised on those brain-fades.
That’s not the reason we’re here because the successive defeats had nothing to do with the Sharks’ mental capacities.
The SA derby defeats had everything to do with a discerning lack of physicality and that, for a SA Super Rugby team, is a serious concern in a landscape where power rules. Like Eskom, their forwards have embarked on load-shedding, with theirs being on rotation for two weeks. In Super Rugby, that can be terminal and that’s something a team can ill afford.
The Sharks could and should beat the Rebels on Saturday after the Melbourne side had their lungs punctured by Johannesburg’s altitude. What Durban doesn’t have in altitude, it has in humidity. However, that climatic value often affects the Sharks as much as it does the visiting teams.
What the Rebels did do on Saturday was to expose the Lions’ soft underbelly in terms of not having serious ball carriers. Through their loose-forward trio, the Sharks do have defence-piercing ball-carrying personnel. When this strength has been nullified, which was the case against the Stormers and the Bulls, they’ve had nowhere to turn to.
While the Rebels were on the receiving end of a painful defeat against the Lions on Saturday, they’ve found a way to win even though their forwards have been dominated at times. For an SA team, forward dominance, or parity at the very least, lays the foundation of a serviceable performance. Then come the set-pieces and everything else falls in after that.
Set-pieces can be fixed but physicality can’t. That should be the biggest concern for Robert du Preez and his Durban charges, especially with the fact that his team looked like they’d be SA’s best Super Rugby bet this season. They’ve had the stability that’s lacking in the other teams and their recruitment has looked to be quite sound.
What teams look like on paper and how they play are two different things. That’s been the case with the Sharks and while they have time to turn their fortunes around, they don’t want to find themselves in the same boat as the Chiefs, whose season has lurched from one disaster to the next.
There’s hope in a turnaround, as seen with the Stormers’ three consecutive wins after an opening-round Loftus Versfeld hammering by the Bulls. Again, there’s the significant matter of an overseas tour that the Stormers face over the next four weeks. For the Sharks, that’s still in the distance.
They still have a set of games in SA to get their act together. In the Currie Cup, the Sharks showed some decent resilience and a dose of that will come in handy in a tournament that their coach said they should be winning this season. Super Rugby isn’t won in March or April, but it can certainly be lost in these months.