Even if matters aren't looking that rosy at Super 12 level - of the four South African teams involved in matches last weekend, only the Cats could record a win - the larger picture is looking a lot more encouraging than it did in the dark days of December, after the Springboks' 55-3 thrashing by England at Twickenham.

Classy Springbok, Zimbabwe and Northern Transvaal utility back of the late 1970s and 80s, Ian Robertson, believes that a World Cup squad, if it were picked right now, would be bursting with talent, among the backs in particular.

Though, as Sharks coach Kevin Putt has pointed out, unacceptably disorganised defence allowed the Waratahs to score no fewer than six tries, Robertson saw glimpses of individual brilliance that could be harnessed to South Africa's benefit at international level at Absa Stadium, where the Natal outfit lost 49-36 to their Australian opponents, and in other Super 12 games on TV.

In discussion with a network of fellow-Springboks - whom he did not feel, however, at liberty to name as some are involved at coaching level with other unions - he had found a common bond of optimism.

"There's a lot of work to be done, make no mistake," said Robertson, "but as national convener of selectors Wynand Claassen mentioned last week, it is not all doom and gloom."

Robertson, who played at fullback, flyhalf and centre for the Boks, liked the way Andre Snyman was working his way back to form, the sharply angled running he used to cut back against the stream of the defence to score twice for easily converted tries by Butch James.

He felt that in Snyman, the Cats' Gcobani Bobo - "a through and through inside centre" - Robbie Fleck and later in the season WP's Jean de Villiers, if he makes a good recovery from his knee injury, the Boks midfield resources should be looking really healthy by the start of the Tri-Nations tournament.

"Fleck is concentrating on his rugby once more and not head-hunting. That makes a big difference."

Robertson and his other Springbok cronies, who keep in regular weekly contact, believed a trump-card on the wing could be Cats fullback Jacque Fourie.

"We must put the resources at our disposal to the best possible use. You have Werner Greeff at fullback, so why not experiment with Fourie? He has electrifying potential."

Andre Pretorius and Chris Rossouw looked like the best contenders at flyhalf with Neil de Kock in front of Craig Davidson by a short head, and the jury is still out on veteran Joost van der Westhuizen.

The Sharks, meanwhile, face another searching examination this Friday evening in their third consecutive home game against the high-riding Wellington Hurricanes, and Putt must be yearning for the return of his season's captain, John Smit, as well as the sturdy Lukas van Biljon to add stability to a disturbingly uneven front five.

The writing was on the wall for the Sharks 20 minutes into the second half. Once a brave assault by the home team immediately after the interval had been repulsed, the Waratahs went on a scoring spree - three tries in a thrilling 10-minute burst - from which Shaun Sowerby's team simply had no hope of recovering.

Apart from Snyman, Ricardo Loubscher, Wylie Human (who between them were responsible for the five tries the Sharks scored), Charl van Rensburg, getting a rare opportunity to get on the park, played his heart out as did Sowerby and the gutsy Luke Watson, though the latter's lack of bulk is something of a problem at this level.

SCORERS

Sharks 36: Tries by Andre Snyman (2), Ricardo Loubscher, Wylie Human (2). Conversions: Butch James (3). Penalty: James (2).

Waratahs 49: Tries by Lote Tuqiri, Tom Bowman, Shaun Berne, Mat Rogers, Van Humphries, Nathan Blacklock. Conversions: Matt Burke (5). Penalties: Matt Burke (3).