Durban – Viewers of the Sharks’ rugby matches of late couldn’t help but have noticed a grizzled old rugby warhorse sitting next to Sean Everitt in the coaching boxes.
They might also have noticed that the Sharks’ scrumming has improved incrementally during their United Rugby Championship tour, and it is fact that these two observations are inextricably linked...
The gnarled front row veteran accompanying Everitt and the Sharks on their venture into the northern hemisphere is Akvsenti Giorgadze, the former Georgia hooker who has made an impressive career as a specialist scrumming coach.
It s no secret that over the last 18 months or so the Sharks’ set scrum has creaked and groaned, engaged reverse gear too many times, and has often been penalised.
So it was not surprising that when the American dollars entered the Sharks’ bank account after the New York consortium bought into Jonsson Kings Park, a scrum coach was on the shopping list.
Giorgadze came with a strong reputation. He played most of his rugby in France where the set scrum is a technical battleground. After retiring, he spent eight years as scrum coach for Top 14 side La Rochelle and he did the same job for the French national side when Yannick Bru was the forwards coach.”
Giorgadze joined the Sharks just before their tour and CEO Ed Coetzee feels the set scrum has come along nicely.
“The scrum is sorted now, our Georgian coach is really good,” Coetzee said of the 45-year-old Giorgadze who played 65 times for his country. “He coached at Toulouse and La Rochelle, and he was very good for France when he worked with Yannick Bru as scrum and lineout coach.”
Coetzee needs no reminding that in the Currie Cup, the Sharks were averaging four scrum penalties a match as they buckled under the pressure, and as a former prop himself, Coetzee must have held his breath each time the Sharks packed down for a scrum.
“Akvsenti is highly technical and he has helped a lot. He has made a big difference,” Coetzee said. “And Thomas du Toit has grown a lot as a player — his time at the Springboks has helped him mature, and then we still have Bongi Mbonambi and Ox Nche to join us.”
Thomas The Tank is still just 26 but has been playing for the Shark since 2014 and is coming to his own now, even being given the captaincy for the Sharks’ win over the Ospreys last week when Phepsi Buthelezi was given a break.
The Sharks’ set-piece was excellent in that game and it certainly helped that in the second row they had their old firm of Ruben van Heerden and Hyron Andrews.
The pair was the Sharks’ first-choice lock pairing when they were topping Super Rugby before Covid struck but they have both had issues with injuries and illness.
Van Heerden, in particular, has had a tough time — earlier this year he was very ill after suffering a burst appendix and then soon after recovering from that he got sick with Covid.
The Sharks play Cardiff in their final tour match on Saturday, 8.30pm kick-off.