Errors continue to hamper Sharks

JON CARDINELLI writes that the Sharks will need to sharpen their attack if they hope to nullify the Hurricanes’ threat in Wellington on Friday.

The attacking games of the Sharks and Stormers haven’t been up to scratch in 2012. For the Stormers, tries have been hard to come by. For the Sharks, four-try efforts haven’t necessarily guaranteed winning results.

While it may seem like the Stormers and Sharks have something in common, their problems on attack are very different. Each side has what the other lacks, that is the Stormers have a powerful and accurate pack that has excelled in the ball retention stakes, while the Sharks have the finishers capable of making the most of turnover opportunities.

The Sharks have scored 15 tries in six games, which makes them the fourth-highest try-scoring team in the competition. And yet, they sit in sixth place on the overall log. Incidentally, the Hurricanes are in seventh position despite the fact that they have scored the most tries in the 2012 tournament (20).

Both teams have won three and lost three, which confirms that try-scoring ability doesn’t necessarily guarantee results. The Sharks have been lethal from turnover ball, but haven’t produced controlled performances with ball in hand. Handling errors have hampered their development as an attacking unit, as have injuries to second row personnel.

They’ve completed some incredible wins thus far, rallying from a 17-0 deficit to beat the current Super Rugby champions in Round 4. Last week, they hung on for a narrow win against the Brumbies, their first victory in Canberra since 1998.

The Brumbies dominated possession in that fixture, and if not for their own inability to protect the pill in opposition territory they may have secured the result. They were denied at the death when Stephen Moore knocked the ball on in the Sharks 22, a mistake that summed up their night.

It’s the kind of mistake that has afflicted the Sharks, as they’ve struggled to mount an assault via a controlled multiphase approach. Their handling and decision-making has let them down, and the frustration has been patent. It didn’t cost them in that clash with the Brumbies, but they should be wary of the Hurricanes’ tendency to turn opposition mistakes into try-scoring chances.

When the Stormers played the Hurricanes in Round 1, they went into that game with the intent to starve the Kiwi side of possession. There was always the threat that the Canes would pounce on turnover ball and translate that opportunity into points, but for the most part the Stormers looked to play the game in opposition territory and keep the ball away from the Canes’ dangerous broken field runners.

The Sharks have a different philosophy to the Stormers, but they could benefit from adopting a tighter, more conservative mantra this Friday. They could also take a lesson from the Lions match against the Hurricanes, where the Lions’ high-risk, run-from-all-corners strategy played into the Hurricanes’ hands. The Hurricanes may be more structured under Mark Hammett, but they still have the ability to dominate when the game is loose.

The Sharks were once again solid at the set piece last week, securing all 11 of their lineouts. They conceded all their penalties at the ruck or maul, but a total figure of six penalties against the Sharks suggests they have improved their discipline. They need to extend this accuracy to other areas of their game, as the Hurricanes won’t be easy to topple in the Cake Tin.

It’s sounds obvious, but they need to look after the ball. And after losing in the last 10 minutes in Sydney to the Waratahs, and so nearly blowing it in the dying stages of the Brumbies clash, they won’t need reminding that 80-minute efforts are required to win big Super Rugby matches.

We’re yet to see this Sharks side produce a balanced showing. They’ve made some notable improvements since embarking on their Australasian tour, but they need to start producing consistent performances week after week if they’re going to remain in the top six.