DURBAN - For the Sharks, three months of Currie Cup toil ended up in tears at Kings Park on Saturday after frailties in their game were ruthlessly exposed by Western Province.
An invaluable chance to seize momentum ahead of the 2018 Super Rugby season has perished but coach Robert du Preez is determined to ensure all is not lost.
“There is huge disappointment for us and the supporters but while we lost the final, I feel we have generally turned this around this year and built a good squad. We did a lot of good things in this competition and when we add players coming back from Japan, it bodes well for Super Rugby.”
Perhaps, but for now Sharks fans have every right to a blue Monday. What the heck happened? The Sharks were runaway log leaders for the duration of the Currie Cup, going unbeaten in 10 consecutive games, only for the wheels to come off at home twice in a fortnight to Western Province.
It comes down to the oldest cliché in the book. It pains one to even write “it always starts up front.”
A retreating tight five means your flanks can’t be effective, the gain line battle is lost, and then the scrumhalf is under pressure, and it ripples all the way down to the fullback. That is putting it simplistically, but it is what happened to the Sharks in a nutshell.
“Province put a lot of pressure on us, especially in the scrums, it started early in the game and took its toll later,” Du Preez said. “Province have got a really great front row in Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi and JC Janse van Rensburg.”
Province were able to use the possession to initiate momentum by regularly getting over the gain line to put the Sharks’ defence on the back foot.
“You can’t do much if you are not wining the gain line,” Du Preez reflected. “From there, it’s really difficult to defend.”
The frustration in the Sharks ranks also affected their discipline and Du Preez did not hold back in criticising Dan du Preez for a yellow card late in the game for clearing out a player who did not have the ball.
“Yellow cards in a final always come at a cost. We were technically still in the game at that stage and it just gave more momentum to the opposition,” the coach said.
Coach Du Preez was also displeased at some of the Sharks’ defending, which at times was sloppy.
“You have to make your one-on-one tackle. The ball carrier can still get momentum from half-hearted defence. It can be very costly,” Du Preez said.
The coach was asked if he was satisfied with the progress flyhalf Curwin Bosch has made on defence, an area of his game that the Springbok management have asked him to brush up.
“We’ve worked really hard with Curwin on his defence. It’s definitely an area of his game that he’s going to have to work hard on, especially if he is to play international rugby,” Du Preez said.
He confirmed that his elder son, Robert du Preez will be joining the Sharks for the Super Rugby season. The 24-year-old had an excellent game at flyhalf for the visitors, and WP coach John Dobson praised his key role in his team winning the Currie Cup.
“Rob du Preez is going to be special in Durban,” Dobson said. “He is leaving Western Province, but he put absolutely everything into this campaign. His leadership was a really key factor as well.”