DURBAN – Sharks coach Robert du Preez did not mask his disappointment at his team fluffing their lines in a Currie Cup match against Western Province they had described during the week as a “quarter-final”, and offered no excuses for the 31-20 defeat.
There was ultimately nothing riding on the match for the Sharks other than momentum going into an already booked home semi-final, but Du Preez sets high standards and was unhappy that his team had “gone through the motions” at Kings Park.
The hungrier WP team came from behind to shock the Sharks and thus book a home semi-final of their own.
They will host the Lions on Saturday, while the Sharks entertain the fourth-placed Bulls, who sneaked into the play-offs after a dramatic final round of the competition.
The Bulls are hitting good form at the right time under new coach John Mitchell, and were ruthless in sweeping aside the Pumas 52-30 on Friday night with their sparkling brand of running rugby.
The Sharks forwards will already know that they can’t let the Bulls get the front-ball they afforded Province in the second half at the weekend.
Du Preez lamented the fact that his team seemed to have no genuine purpose in the first half and this got worse in the second when the desperate visitors fought for their lives.
“Although we were up on the scoreboard at halftime, we were just going through the motions, and that resulted in us going into the second half with the same attitude at a time when they were starting to play proper rugby, which put us under pressure,” the coach reflected.
“The bottom line is we have only ourselves to blame for not being clinical in our approach, and we have learned the hard way that you can’t take any game for granted. You can’t think you can just pitch up and it (the result) will just happen,” Du Preez added.
“Having said that, we must also give credit to Province. At the end of the day, they were hungrier for the win.”
The Sharks players will have had a roasting from their coaching staff, but the lesson will not have been properly learned if the players dwell too much on their indiscretions at the weekend.
“We have to fix it now,” Du Preez said. “We have put in a huge amount of hard work over the season and that cannot go to waste.
“We are going to have to regroup on Monday, forget this game and move on. We have a semi-final to win.”
The Sharks might have to tackle the Bulls without two of their stalwarts this season. Jacques Vermeulen, who has been consistently good as a bruising flank this Currie Cup, came off clutching sore ribs, while loosehead prop Thomas du Toit hobbled off with a leg injury.
Both will be evaluated on Monday, but Vermeulen in particular will be hard pressed to recover from a rib injury in a week.
Du Preez will hopefully have a ready-made replacement in his son Jean-Luc du Preez, who came back from the Boks with a sore shoulder, but might be ready for the semi.
On the positive side, centre Lukhanyo Am and wing Kobus van Wyk both came through well in their comebacks from long-term injury.
In the semi-finals on Saturday, Province will host the Lions at 2.30pm, while the Sharks will meet the Blue Bulls in Durban later in the day at 5pm.