The Sharks are short of grunt up front
DURBAN – The unavailability of Thomas “The Tank” du Toit for the Sharks’ Currie Cup match against Griquas on Saturday because of Covid protocols continues to expose the Achilles heel of the Durban team.
It is no coincidence that when the Springbok tighthead prop has played for the Sharks this year they have prospered, but when he has been injured, or a victim of Covid isolation, his team has struggled in the set scrums.
The Tank could not play against the Lions a fortnight ago because of injury and last week, for the visit to the Cheetahs, he was at home in isolation. In both of those games, the Sharks’ set scrum buckled…
It is true that scrumming is a unit affair — the front row is at the coal face; the second row is vital, and the loose forwards are important contributors — but individuals are key, too, and it has become clear that the Sharks are over-reliant on Du Toit.
The 136kg Tank has variously been unavailable post-lockdown because of a calf injury, then a rib problem, and latterly because of Covid, and the Sharks’ set-piece has creaked in his absence. In the Sharks’ impressive victory over the Bulls in Durban a few weeks ago, the 25-year-old’s contribution was massive.
Without going into criticism of the individuals who have filled in for Du Toit, it is evident that the Sharks need to do some serious recruiting in this most vital of positions.
South Africa’s famous rugby personality, Dr Danie Craven, said that the two most important players in a rugby team are the tighthead prop and his back-up on the bench.
If the Sharks are serious about becoming a trophy-winning team, they have to sort out their set-piece, and that means ensuring they have quality depth.
The oldest cliché in the rugby book is that “it all starts up front”, and this phrase is hackneyed for a reason …
What is frustrating for Sharks fans is that their team has arguably the best backline in provincial rugby worldwide – Bosch, Am, Nkosi, Louw, Fassi, Penxe are champion players — but without front-foot ball from dominating forwards they are Rolls-Royces that might as well be jalopies.
Next year, the Sharks join the PRO 16, a competition based in the Northern Hemisphere, where conditions ensure the set-piece is a huge focus.
As things stand, the likes of Leinster, Munster and Ulster will hardly be daunted at the challenge currently presented by the unimpressive Sharks’ tight five.
I think the Sharks were seriously hurt by the loss of blindside flank Tyler Paul to Japan, during the lockdown window. Thinking out of the box, can the world-class Ruben van Heerden do a Pieter-Steph du Toit in the No 7 jersey? Providing there was class coming through in the second row… and I think there ultimately will be in youngster JJ van der Mescht.
Right now, the Sharks have to beat Griquas on Saturday at Jonsson Kings Park to consolidate their place in the Currie Cup’s semi-final territory, and you can be sure that targeting the Sharks’ set-piece is the No 1 focus for the men from Kimberley, and what about the Springbok front row men of Western Province that lie in wait next week?