Pressure builds on errant Sharks

JON CARDINELLI writes the Sharks will need to be more disciplined and clinical if they hope to record their first win of the 2012 tournament on Saturday.

It was always going to be difficult to come away from Loftus Versfeld and Newlands with the winning points, but the Sharks will know that they let themselves down badly. They lacked aggression, or ‘attitude’ as John Plumtree described it, in that performance against the Bulls. They produced an improved showing against the Stormers, but lacked the ability to finish the Cape franchise off.

The Sharks were manhandled in Pretoria but the game in Cape Town was there for the taking. Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen did miss four attempts at goal, which would suggest that the hosts should have won by a more comfortable margin than 15-12. But considering Pat Lambie also fluffed two kicks at goal and that the Sharks were stronger in other facets, Plumtree and his charges should be more than a little disappointed that they didn’t walk away with the spoils.

They had 58% of the territory and 52% of the possession, stats that indicate there were a fair number of opportunities to strike at a Stormers defensive line that was not at its best. While the hosts were better in the second stanza, they slipped 12 tackles in the first half. They were fortunate that the Sharks didn’t capitalise on this attacking momentum and establish more than a 9-6 advantage by half-time.

The Stormers scrum enjoyed a good evening, but neither side was particularly dominant at the lineout and breakdowns. There was plenty of intent, but not much accuracy and this impacted on the Sharks’ ball retention.

There were 21 lost possessions when they faced the Bulls (a stat that includes breakdown turnovers and handling errors among others) and 21 lost possessions against the Stormers. In that second match, they were guilty of nine handling errors.

They also battled to string many phases together, only managing to take the ball through seven or more phases on five occasions. And when they did keep the ball for long enough to stretch the opposition defence, they failed to translate this possession into points.

They looked underdone in that match against the Bulls, and there were still signs of rust in the fixture against the Stormers. But there will be no margin for error come Saturday.

They’ve now lost two from two, and are desperate to record their first win. They’re back in Durban to host the Lions, and must settle quickly in this fixture if they’re to end this losing streak.

It’s a game you’d expect the Sharks to win, given their record against the Lions at Kings Park in recent years. Minimising handling errors and penalties at the breakdown will be crucial in their drive to retain more possession. Achieving that, they will need to be more clinical than they were in Cape Town and they will need to translate sustained periods of pressure into points.

There have been complaints about the weather in Durban at this time of year, as the heat and humidity can make handling difficult. Nevertheless, the Sharks will need to produce a more controlled showing. The Lions are a dangerous side on the counter-attack, and so spilled ball will not only rob the Sharks of possession and potential scoring chances but also create scoring opportunities for the Lions’ excellent broken-field players.

The discipline at the breakdown will also be under scrutiny. The Lions have some talented players in this area, and while the Sharks shouldn’t be lacking in attitude, they will need to be more accurate and mindful of the referee’s law interpretations. It’s been a problem in the past two matches where they’ve conceded 12 and 14 penalties respectively. Twelve of those 30 penalties have been at the ruck.

Follow JC on Twitter
Follow SA Rugby magazine on Twitter