May 24, 2015 Leave a comment
There was an almost comical moment in the 69th minute of the Sharks’ 21-14 victory over the Reds on Friday which both summed up their season and also what needed to happen for them to snap out of a six-match losing streak.
There was scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer limping near the Reds line in clear discomfort and wanting to leave the field after the ball had been cleared from a ruck, when suddenly the ball screwed laterally from the boot of James O’Connor, who was attempting a regulation clearance, straight into the gut of Ungerer. In golf terms it was a shank, and for Ungerer, It was like one of those slip catches in cricket that either stick or they don’t, and the former SA Under 20 scrumhalf literally staggered three metres over the line for a freak try, and then off the field with a yet to be disclosed injury.
Despite yet another injury, finally the Sharks had had the bounce of the ball, the rub of the green, call it what you like, because O’Connor has probably never made a howler of that nature before and is unlikely to repeat it.
Earlier the Sharks had seen lock Stefan Lewies carted off with a dislocated knee cap, centre Francois Steyn leave the field midway through the second half with what looked like a pectoral injury after having been an influential presence, and replacement prop Dale Chadwick go off in considerable pain not long after replacing the Beast.
The Sharks had led from the third minute but looked to be out on their feet as the match entered the final quarter, and the momentum was with the Queenslanders, who then conspired to give the Sharks mental boosts to hang on for the win. There was O’Connor’s fluffed kick and not long after Reds centre Samu Kerevi had blasted clean through, with only Lwazi Mvovo at the back to beat, when he inexplicably kicked ahead instead of passing inside to his supporters. Mvovo caught and marked the ball and a certain seven-pointer was averted.
It is true that the rugby gods have been looking every which way but at the Sharks throughout their campaign – it seems a season ago that in a third-round match against the Bulls at Loftus a series of poor decisions by referee Johan Greeff possibly cost them the result – and injuries have mounted after each game. They also had “Mr Bean”, alias Rohan Hoffman, last week in Sydney.
But let’s not gloss over the Sharks’ self-created deficiencies this season. They have been their own worst enemies as far as discipline and defence are concerned, and in some games it has seemed that some big names have been cruising while others have been busting a gut.
Week in week out we have seen loose forwards Marcell Coetzee and Renaldo Bothma standing out for unstinting effort, and veteran lock Marco Wentzel has won much respect since taking over the captaincy from Bismarck du Plessis.
But you need the whole pack to fire at the same time if you are to win the close games. That is when you start getting the rub of the green …
Outside centre JP Pietersen, having been dormant for so long, was another who burst into life with a huge performance, particularly on defence.
On their opening game on tour, the Sharks were terrible against the Highlanders in Dunedin but as a team they then started fighting, and there were disheartening losses to the Hurricanes and Waratahs, who could easily have lost those games had the Sharks not been inconsistent on defence, missing 30 tackles in each of those games against leading teams in the competition.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the face-saving win against the Reds was the tenacity of the team. As early as the fifth-minute of the second half, Wentzel told the referee that his players were struggling because most of them were “walking wounded’, and they needed more time at stoppages to get medical attention.
Hooker Bismarck du Plessis was immense in setting the example that he failed to do when he was captain and then suspended for four weeks. He was at his belligerent best and on tour has shown the form required to reinstate him as No 1 Springbok hooker ahead of Adriaan Strauss.
The tour also unveiled new backline players that injury to stars otherwise would have kept unearthed.
Scrumhalf Ungerer comes home injured but with a reputation he did not have a month ago having been third choice behind Cobus Reinach, who was injured after the Highlanders game, and Conrad Hoffman, whom he has outplayed.
Similarly, flyhalf Lionel Cronje has taken his chances while the same possibly cannot be said for Fred Zeilinga, who was the second-choice behind Patrick Lambie at the start of the season.
Cronje and Ungerer have been the 9-10 combination for the last three games.
The Sharks won ugly against the Reds, let’s not fool ourselves, with guts and good fortune winning the day. The challenge now is to use the victory to polish up their game to beat the Rebels this week and the Stormers next week, both games being at Kings Park, and then we can truly speak about pride and respect being restored.
by Mike Greenaway