JON CARDINELLI reports that guts ultimately proved more valuable than accuracy in an important 29-26 win for Sharks over the Brumbies.
Regardless of a reflection that will reveal both teams were guilty of stupid mistakes, the upshot is that the Sharks have recorded a bonus-point victory in a city where they haven’t won since 1998. There is plenty to criticise and plenty to laud, but there’s no getting round this fact.
The result ensures the Sharks remain in the Super Rugby race after a string of inconsistent showings. They fell short against the Waratahs last week and desperately needed this win to keep them in the hunt. They were never in control in Canberra and the problems in their game still persist, but for the moment they will savour a performance that has brought them five log points and a crucial win Down Under.
Moving forward, though, they will need to address a few shortcomings that continue to hamper their ability to dominate a match.
Indeed it was their ability to stifle the Brumbies at the breakdown and force some telling turnovers that won them the game. Jake White will be livid with his players for coughing up possession whenever the hosts ventured into the Sharks’ 22. In these pressure situations, the Sharks prevailed, showing incredible tenacity as well as an accuracy that was absent from many other areas of their game.
It may seem harsh to criticise an attack that scored four tries against what is a good Brumbies defence, but many of these tries were created from turnover ball.
There were moments of clear desperation that garnered points, such as when Odwa Ndungane found himself defending against three Brumbies players and still managed to snaffle an intercept that led to a try. In the second half, there was a brilliant breakdown turnover on the Sharks tryline that was quickly shifted wide, and Lwazi Mvovo produced a thrilling finish to secure the bonus-point try.
The accurate boot of Freddie Michalak also ensured that the Sharks turned three of their four tries into seven-pointers. And yet, that high-try count is misleading, as the Sharks battled to control possession for much of the game.
Not for the first time in 2012, their failure to set a good platform before unleashing the backs led to some frantic play. And six rounds into the competition, there still seems to be a lack of synergy that is hampering their attacking execution.
Sharks fans will point to the scoreboard and denounce these claims, but it must be noted just how many opportunities the Brumbies botched on Saturday. Their first try was scored through fullback Jesse Mogg, who initially profited from a forward pass and then showed a superb piece of individual skill to finish. Between that point and just seconds before full time, the Brumbies enjoyed many more opportunities but were undone by turnovers.
When they had a chance to counter-attack, they were also guilty of silly mistakes and poor decisions. The Sharks kicked terribly out of hand, but unfortunately for the hosts, the Brumbies just could not capitalise. It is surely something White will want to address with this young and inexperienced side.
For the Sharks, it’s time to start putting some complete performances together. Like the win against the Reds two weeks previously, this result in Canberra highlighted the guts and tenacity that runs through the side, but they need to be honest about where they are falling short, they need to start executing efficiently if they are to build on a solid start to their Australasian tour.
They lost the match against the Waratahs in the final minutes, and so nearly relinquished a 10-point lead in the dying stages of the clash against the Brumbies. It took a Brumbies knock-on in the final play for the Sharks to escape with the spoils.
The scoreboard may tell a different story, but the Sharks still have a long way to go if they are going to topple the better teams.