Durban - The decision to send an “under-strength” Sharks team to play Western Province in the final round of the Currie Cup was a bad mistake and contributed significantly to the loss to the Pumas in the semi-final.
That was the admission by Sharks coach Joey Mongalo after the Pumas shocked the Sharks 26-20 in Durban on Saturday evening.
"It's 100 percent my fault, and I mean that," said Mongalo. "I'm the one who decided to tinker with the squad that went to Western Province, and I didn't have to do that. I could have chosen the same team that would have gained momentum going into the semi-final.”
The term “under-strength” is used loosely because the Sharks team that went to Cape Town and was beaten 44-5 were mostly URC players. The problem is that they had not played for three weeks and the gamble for Mongalo was that he hoped the week off for his Currie Cup regulars would refresh them, instead it made them rusty.
"I took a risk, and that risk didn't work. You saw how long it took us to get going in the game, and that's purely because the guys were disrupted the week before because I chose to play a completely different team against WP.
"It's not on the guys. It's totally on me."
Mongalo paid his respects to the never-say-die Pumas while admitting that he had learned plenty from his first opportunity as head coach of a team.
"I'm proud of how the team was able to galvanise around a purpose and how the guys played and offered themselves. There are many games this year where other teams might have gone away, but this team stayed in the fight," he said.
"I understand now how I want to run a rugby team. I know that I want to run rugby teams going forward and I want to compliment the playing group and the staff for the way they came together. I think people who watched us play would have seen that these guys have been desperate and they've represented the Sharks very well.
"I want to thank the people of Durban and the Sharks supporters who aren't in Durban for the way they've rallied behind this team. It's one thing for players to go out and give their all, but it's another to do it in a way that brings people back to the stadium.
"As upsetting as this loss is for us, we know it is for the fans as well. I'd love for them to know that we hurt just as much, if not more.
"It's painful. Losing is not 'lekker' and it's not something this team or brand should become accustomed to. It's not right."