Sharks must covet consistency

JON CARDINELLI writes that the Sharks’ territorial supremacy set the platform for a win over the Lions but a higher degree of execution will be required in the coming clash with the Reds.

I wrote last week that the Sharks would need to minimalise the basic errors that had hampered their momentum in the earlier defeats to the Bulls and Stormers. I said that a more disciplined performance at the breakdown would be required against a Lions side that thrives off turnover ball, as their broken-field runners are capable of making something out of nothing.

The statistics will show that the Sharks were guilty of the same errors in the match against the Lions. The significant difference is that they dominated territory and made more of their scoring opportunities, as the four-try bonus point will confirm.

The Sharks had 58% of the territory against the Stormers, and 59% of the territory against the Lions. They failed to score a try against the Stormers and scored four against the Lions, so it’s obvious that they’ve improved immensely in that department.

The Stormers have one of the best defences in the competition, while the Lions don’t boast the same kind of reputation. Nevertheless, John Mitchell’s charges defended well on Saturday against the Sharks, and so credit again should go to the Sharks for keeping the Lions pinned in their own half for long periods and applying the pressure.

Flyhalf Pat Lambie had his best game of the season, varying his play between kicking and passing. His tactical decision-making was much improved and his line kicking played a big part in the Sharks’ strive for territorial dominance.

While the Sharks should take heart from these improvements, they must realise that handling errors and ill-discipline continue to hold them back. Last Saturday was the most errant of the Sharks’ three performances in 2012, and the bonus-point win shouldn’t overshadow the fact that there is still plenty to sharpen and polish.

The Sharks were guilty of 21 lost possessions against the Bulls and coughed up just as much ball against the Stormers. While they beat the Lions by a comfortable margin, they had as many as 28 lost possessions, notably nine handling errors, five turnovers at the point of contact and three lineouts lost on their own throw.

It’s a record that doesn’t make for good reading, and unless these problems are addressed they will cost the Sharks in future.

The Lions have developed a reputation as an exciting team that plays with a lot of heart, but they are also perpetually undone by their own errors and ill-discipline. So while the Sharks’ first win should be commended, it also needs to be viewed in context, as the Lions’ loose approach often works in the opposition’s favour.

The Sharks’ lineout problems also persisted in this match, and news that Ross Skeate is sidelined with injury won’t help their set-piece aspirations. The Sharks will need to make do with the players they have available for the match against the Reds, and ensure they secure the ball off their own throw.

Ironically, it was from a lineout where the Sharks produced one of their more clinical attacking displays in Saturday’s win over the Lions. Right on full time, Bismarck du Plessis found his jumper and the Sharks pack proceeded to maul their way over the Lions’ tryline.

There was also a beautiful build-up at the end of the first half where the Sharks forwards fired and the backs moved the ball swiftly to wing Lwazi Mvovo for a try. Both of these attacks were launched deep within Lions territory, and both showed what the Sharks are capable of when they get it right at the point of contact.

Coach John Plumtree should be looking for more of the same against a well-drilled Reds team at Kings Park this Saturday.

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