Durban - Easily the stand-out feature of the Sharks’ comprehensive United Rugby Championship victory over the Bulls on Friday was the radical transformation in their scrumming prowess.
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.
But incremental improvement began during their URC tour in September, and it is no coincidence that tied in with the arrival of former Georgia hooker Akvsenti Giorgadze, who has made an impressive career as a specialist scrumming coach.
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 high 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 French Top 14 side La Rochelle and he did the same job for the French national team when Yannick Bru was the forwards coach.
Giorgadze joined the Sharks just before their tour and the set scrum has come along nicely.
In the Currie Cup, the Sharks were averaging four scrum penalties a match as they buckled under the pressure, but now a weakness is turning into a strength.
The 45-year-old Giorgadze played 65 times for his country and coached at Toulouse and La Rochelle, and he was very good for France when he worked with Yannick Bru as scrum and lineout coach.
He is a highly technical coach and has made a big difference, but the players also deserve credit, notably Thomas du Toit who has matured into a powerful force, and how good was youngster Ntuthuko Mchunu, the 22-year-old who is being hailed as the next Tendai Mtawarira.
Bongi Mbonambi also made an impact in his debut, and it should also be remembered that the Sharks had to do without Ox Nche, who was unavailable for undisclosed medical reasons.
The Sharks’ excellent set-piece was also thanks to the effort of their old firm second row of Ruben van Heerden and Hyron Andrews.
The pair was the Sharks’ first-choice lock pairing when they were topping the overall Super Rugby log before Covid-19 struck but they have both had issues with injuries and illness, but when they do play together the set-piece is always more effective.
The Sharks’ next game is on January 8, away to Benetton.