After two warm-up matches that yielded little in value, the Sharks go into their campaign opening match against the Force more than a little undercooked.
Last night they romped to a 33-5 victory over a understrength Lions, but the aggressive nature of the (friendly) game was highly counterproductive for them.
Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis and AJ Venter all spent time in the sin bin for various offences forcing the coaching staff to reshuffle the decks in their absence. This had an adverse effect on the teamâ€™s gameplan and structure, where they were hoping to smooth some rough edges prior to their February 15 kick-off against the Force.
â€œFrom the start it was extremely physical and the cards were definitely disruptive,â€ Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford told keo.co.za.
â€œWe had trained in a certain way and wanted to execute accurately, which for the most part never happened because we were a player short for most of the first half.
â€œConditions also made it difficult. It was very wet and the players didnâ€™t adapt their game accordingly. We were still trying to run the ball from everywhere, instead of punting it downfield and playing a territorial game.â€
Bashford said the second half was better from a structural perspective but conceded that there was a significant amount of work to do before the Force match.
The Sharks were average against the Cheetahs last week, salvaging a draw with an injury-time penalty. While the results are relatively irrelevant in these warm-up matches, coaches hope to see their structures and patterns of play employed to good effect. The sense that one gets when speaking to the Sharks coaching staff is that the team have missed the mark in this area.
They still remain a good bet for a play-off berth, but they will have to quickly settle into the groove that saw them start the tournament so brilliantly in 2007 (their first defeat came in round seven to the Brumbies).
Meanwhile, Frans Steyn (foot), Frederic Michalak (calf) and JP Pietersen (foot) will undergo scans today to determine the extent of their injuries.
Steyn hurt in his foot in practice on Monday and failed to recover for last nightâ€™s match. JP Pietersen took over, but he too limped off with a foot injury, while Michalak felt a twinge in his calf and was substituted immediately.
However, none of the trio are expected to miss the Force game.