Despite an impressive end to their campaign, the Sharks’ season was a failure as they employed the incorrect game in the opening stages.
The Sharks may have ended with seven wins in their last eight matches which showed real courage, but ending ninth on the log highlighted how they’ve underachieved yet again. This year was in direct contrast to their 2009 campaign. They started well in 2009 but lost four of their final five matches last year, The pattern was reversed in 2010 but the outcome was the same.
For a side with the luxury of fielding numerous internationals every week, not making the play-offs is a disappointment. Being knocked out of the competition with two weeks to go is unacceptable.
Coach John Plumtree has constantly lamented their five opening losses. A lot was spoken about the new breakdown interpretations prior to the season, and it was all about which sides would adapt quickest. The interpretations allowed attacking sides to keep ball in hand with confidence, but the fact is teams still had to play rugby in the correct areas, something the Sharks didn’t do.
They also adopted a frantic approach to matches, which didn’t suit their strengths. The outcome was the worst attacking record in the competition as the Sharks only scored 23 tries, while Friday’s match against the Force told the story of the season. They had the Perth side on the ropes, but in the final half hour they couldn’t score the fourth try, and ended up holding on for a win when the result should never have been in doubt.
The Sharks scored just one bonus point in the entire season, but this must also be viewed in context as it was against the Lions – who gifted nine bonus-point wins during their own campaign.
The Sharks’ Bok-laden pack also didn’t fire in those opening rounds due to the rotation system in place. That only served to negate the abilities of the players as they couldn’t forge combinations, hampering the individuals and unit as a whole. By the end of the season where players had extended runs in one position, the team benefited as the Sharks’ pack began to outplay their opponents.
The Sharks should be disappointed not to have made the play-offs, but the quality and depth in the backline was never going to be good enough to win the competition. There’s nothing much coming through the Vodacom Cup side, it just depends where they buy from in future, as that is the Sharks’ way.
Home losses are unforgivable in the Super 14, and the couple of defeats to the Chiefs and Cheetahs effectively ended the Sharks’ season. After the 35-6 massacre against the Crusaders, the way the side rebounded against the Waratahs was impressive. Although much was said about Paul Marks’s officiating in the aftermath of the defeat, the fact is the Sharks’ discipline let them down again, just like it did in the opening fortnight.
Whether Marks made the right decision in not awarding a penalty try to the visitors in the final minute is not the point. Earlier in the match Jannie du Plessis and Andy Goode were both deservedly yellow-carded. If that hadn’t happened, they would have put the Tahs out of the game much earlier and wouldn’t have had to rely on a refereeing decision.
Their indiscipline was one of their main shortcomings in the opening weeks and although everyone in the Sharks’ camp did their best to deny it, there was something amiss. Five yellow cards in the opening four matches proved that.
The Sharks rectified that and their other problems to a degree as the season went on, but it was too little too late. The campaign has been described as one of ‘what could have been’. Living on that premise shouldn’t be good enough for the union.
By Grant Ball