DURBAN – In an understatement of note, Sharks coach Robert du Preez said that he was “very unhappy” with his team’s performance in losing 24-17 to the Brumbies in Canberra at the weekend, and if rugby was not a family show, the coach would probably have used some more colourful expletives.
You could not blame him or the coaching staff for getting a touch hot under the collar. There had been so much innovative pre-season training and rich potential shown in warm-up matches, and in the opening round loss to the Lions.
The draw at Kings Park with the Waratahs was a de facto win for the outplayed Australians but then the 50-point pasting of the Sunwolves suggested the Sharks had pulled themselves together.
Yet in the all-important tour opener on Saturday, the Sharks never got out of the starting blocks. Yes, the Brumbies were coming off two losses and playing their first home game, and were suitably fired up, but so what?
The Sharks knew they would need to fight fire with fire, but it did not happen, mostly because the forwards could not supply possession to the backline, the Sharks’ strongest asset.
Take a gem like Lukhanyo Am at outside centre, how many times did he touch the ball?
From Melbourne, where the Sharks play the Rebels this weekend, coach Du Preez sounded disconsolate in the extreme.
“We really battled to get into the game. We started very badly by giving away a string of penalties and we had little possession or territory in the first half,” Du Preez said. “Our discipline really let us down throughout the match (14 penalties) and that is something we are going to seriously address.”
The thing is, the Brumbies were no better in the discipline stakes. In fact, they were worse. They gave away 12 penalties, just two less than the Sharks, but they had two players yellow carded. So for 20 minutes or so of the game, the Sharks played against 14 men, but did not capitalise.
“We knew that we would be in for a Brumbies backlash, that they would be desperate to win in their first home game, and they played really well, but we are disappointed that we did not respond better,” he said.
“We are very unhappy with a performance where the only positive was that we hung in all the way to the death and could have salvaged a draw.”
No doubt Du Preez, off the record, would say that the positive of having been within seven points of the Brumbies in the dying minutes is clutching at straws.
While the line-outs were pretty much even, the Sharks lost three scrums on their feed, underlining that the scrumming is an on-going problem.
It was at the breakdowns that the forwards could not gain the ascendancy required to unleash their lethal backs.
Turning to the Rebels this week, it probably has not helped the Sharks that the Melbourne team was walloped 51-27 in Sydney yesterday. The Rebels had gone into the match having reaped 15 points from a possible 15 in their first three games.