Sharks must develop pack mentality
JOHANNESBURG - Out-thought. Out-muscled. Out-played.
Sean Everitt's team failed to impose themselves on an ever-improving and in-form Lions pack, and for that transgression they paid dearly.
That is perhaps the most concise summary of the Sharks after their 27-12 defeat at the hands of the Lions at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday night. Sean Everitt's team failed to impose themselves on an ever-improving and in-form Lions pack, and for that transgression they paid dearly.
Nevertheless, despite a disappointing performance from his players, the coach could still derive a few positives from the Carling Currie Cup encounter.
Said Everitt: “It is not all doom and gloom for us ... I don't think in our team there was any lack of effort. The guys worked hard and tried really hard. I just think, on the whole, as a team, we didn’t perform well.
“Talking of individuals,“ he continued, ”yes, Sbu (Nkosi) put his hand up. I thought he was outstanding. When he got the ball, he was always a threat and certainly when we were kicking the contestables. There were also some really good performances. Henco Venter played well, Aston Fortuin hasn't played rugby since February - I thought he had a really good game as well. Dylan Richardson was his usual self, as was Manie Libbok at the back.“
Those individual performances, no matter how good, could just not cut the mustard as the Sharks were pounded into submission, and the team failed to click and make a fist of it. It became clear early on in the encounter that the Sharks’ tactic was to play the territorial game, No 10 Curwin Bosch - who had a below par match - and his half-back partner Senele Nohamba, and later Jaden Hendrikse, bombing the Lions at every opportunity.
That plan lacked accuracy, at times commitment, and the territorial possession to be a real threat and with the Lions enjoying supremacy at the breakdown, and not missing a beat at their line-outs, it failed to overturn the ball in their favour. Everitt, however, was loath to criticise the game plan based on previously chronicled records.
“That strategy has worked for us,” said Everitt. “We came back from nine points to beat the Blue Bulls, and we came back from a deficit of, I think, 15 points to beat the Griquas in Kimberley. So, you can't criticise the players for sticking to their structures.”
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Sharks was their lack of discipline on the night. They conceded 14 penalties, most costly at their under-pressure scrum, which stifled any chance to attack the gainline and make inroads into a staunch Lions defence. Those indiscretions alleviated any pressure they had built, and helped the Lions drive them back constantly into their own half. They also suffered from a case of butter-fingers, knocking the ball on at crucial moments that returned them to the scrum, and to the Lions coming out on top, in a disjointed outing.
Their scrum did suffer due to the absence of four first choice players, including springbok Thomas du Toit, but the Sharks had no answers for the onslaught that befell them. Blame it on inexperience if it eases the mind, but the seniors in the team also failed to marshal their pack, and with their kicking game going awry, their heads dropped as a result.
The Sharks can for sure rectify their problems for their clash against the Cheetahs this weekend, but it will once again be without Du Toit as he "has a rib cartilage fracture ... we aren't expecting him back this week“.
Even so, with the battle for a top four spot intensifying, the Sharks can ill-afford another pack performance as the one witness on Saturday night. They will have to man up this week, take it on the chin, learn from the experience, and return stronger for it.