DURBAN - It was smiles all round for the Sharks on Saturday night after they had convincingly beaten the Lions 37-21, a timely outcome ahead of this week’s visit to competition pace-setters Western Province, according to coach Robert du Preez.
“It was definitely the step up we had asked for,” Du Preez beamed in reference to his team’s lacklustre performances in their previous Currie Cup matches. The Sharks hardly looked like champion material in beating the Cheetahs and Pumas, and the coach had challenged his players to sharply improve going into a fortnight of matches against their two biggest rivals for the title, the Lions and WP.
“Although the wet conditions were really difficult, the boys played some very good rugby and controlled the game well,” Du Preez said. “In the first half especially, the boys stuck to their structures and were patient, which is something we have been working hard on. We lost our way a little bit in the second half, especially with all the changes we made, but all in all it was a fantastic result.”
The Sharks led 30-7 at half time after an emphatic performance but the Lions came back to outscore the home side 14-7 in the second half. Du Preez put the loss of shape down to the host of changes he made early in the second half.
It had been pre-planned to give fit-again Boks Sbu Nkosi and Coenie Oosthuizen opportunities as well as Jacques Vermeulen, also back from injury, plus blood new lock Ruben van Heerden who had joined the Sharks from the Bulls last week.
“At half time we spoke about the changes we were going to make and the need to keep to our structures, but that did not pan out,” Du Preez admitted. “The guys did get their game time, though.
“And the positive from the second half is that even though we were not playing too well, the guys stuck it out to deny the Lions a bonus point. The communication on the field in the last ten minutes was outstanding.”
Du Preez said that the impressive first half has given the team something to work with going into this week’s crunch clash in Cape Town. “If we are going to be in a position to win at Newlands we will have to put two halves like that together, and then we can’t let the opposition off the hook like we did with the Lions,” Du Preez added. “We are a good team when we stick to our structures and use possession wisely and don’t get loose.”
Du Preez was pleased to have blooded new recruit Van Heerden. The Sharks have been thin at lock this year and the powerfully built SA Under-20 international is a timely acquisition.
“I thought Ruben did really well for us when he came on, he had some excellent carries,” the coach said. “I am very excited about his future ... he is only 20. He is a big unit and has fitted in really well.”