Shaky Sharks must change tack

JON CARDINELLI writes the time has come for the hit-and-miss Sharks to adopt a more balanced approach.

If there is one thing consistent about the Sharks of 2012 it’s that they are inconsistent. The fact is reflected in their win/loss record as well as the way they play. When they win, they win big, but when they lose, it’s the same old problems that detract from their game.

John Plumtree may be satisfied with a tour scorecard that reads played four, won two. The Sharks picked up 11 out of possible 20 points in Australasia, and the coach may feel that while they lost to the Waratahs and Hurricanes, the 11 log points denote success.

I would argue that the Sharks need to change tack. Their current game plan is too hit-and-miss, and this is why at the halfway stage they are still yet to produce a convincing 80-minute performance.

They’ve won four out of eight games. They’ve scored 21 tries, which sees them second to only the Hurricanes and Bulls (who have both scored 26), but have leaked 19. They’ve conceded a total of 200 points which places them in the bottom defensive bracket along with the Cheetahs, Lions and Force.

The Sharks are a side of extremes. Three of their four wins have been achieved with a four-try bonus point, a fact which may suggest that they are playing the right game. But when you look at the matches they have lost, to the Bulls, Stormers, Waratahs and Hurricanes, they have been outplayed up front and not allowed to play a more cavalier game.

Handling errors and breakdown inaccuracies have limited their potency, and these mistakes have provided opponents with counter-attacking opportunities. Defence has been an issue throughout the season, although they managed to survive a Blues fightback last Friday.

Again, the match in Auckland was an example of their inconsistency. Their defence created try-scoring opportunities, the two intercept tries the product of great defensive pressure, but then they relinquished a 15-0 lead.

It is something they need to address if they still hope to qualify for the play-offs. As the log will confirm, every side bar the Lions is stronger than the Blues.

This week will see them battling the log-leading Chiefs, a side with a reputation for sweeping counter-attacks. The Sharks would be foolish to force the tempo in this match, as the Chiefs have the defence to stand up to the Sharks attack and the counter-attack to turn those characteristic Sharks errors into seven-pointers.

The Sharks can no more attack for 80 minutes than they can defend for the entire game. They need to strike a balance, and it is here where Pat Lambie will be key.

The young Springbok flyhalf did a fine job in his first game back from injury last week. If he continues to vary his play, that is mix it between playing for territory and bringing his outside backs into the game, the Sharks can beat the Chiefs. If his forwards meet the Chiefs’ challenge, Lambie is capable of making the decisions that could win the game.

The Sharks are entering a crucial stage of their season. They will be drained after returning from New Zealand but play-off contenders cannot afford to lose at home. They will enjoy a bye after the Chiefs match, so they need to invest absolutely everything into winning this Saturday.

Following the bye, the Sharks will play five matches on the trot before the Super Rugby competition takes a break for the June Tests. The Sharks will then enjoy their second bye right after the break before playing their last two league games.

Six of their remaining eight matches will be played in Durban, and this will be an advantage. But unless they adopt a more balanced approach that will allow them to perform consistently, they may find themselves outside the top six come the end of July, bonus points or not.

Follow JC on Twitter
Follow SA Rugby magazine on Twitter