DURBAN – With hindsight, the rugby experts should have seen this result coming, but none predicted it.
Not in the newspapers and not in the TV studios. Few predicted a Bulls win at Kings Park, and almost nobody envisaged a 30-point margin of victory for the visitors.
We had seen the Sharks play out of their skins in a fortnight in New Zealand, but what should have been foreseen is that the over-confident Sharks - possibly fatigued by travel back from New Zealand - were heading into an ambush against a refreshed Bulls team that was back from a bye and had everything to play for given that they had only played six matches. The vagaries of the draw had the Bulls having two very early byes.
The challenge that the energised Bulls would propose at Kings Park would have been discussed in Sharks team meetings but, worryingly, the players could not raise themselves mentally to prepare for an inevitable onslaught.
Interestingly, the rival coaches - Robert du Preez and John Mitchell - had said that the opening 20 minutes would be critical. Mitchell said that “We hoped to create anxiety in the opposition in the opening minutes, put them off their stride and get points on the board”.
Du Preez said that the coaching staff had warned the players that the Bulls had a trend of throwing everything into scoring early into games to disrupt the opposition and give themselves confidence.
“We discussed it. We knew how important the first quarter would be, but they scored two tries and at 14-3 we were on the back foot and never recovered,” the coach said. “From there on they played the perfect game, a good mix of running rugby and kicking the ball into space, and we just could not handle it.
After two very good games to complete our tour, with the players having showed how talented they are, we came back home to deliver a performance that was nothing short of embarrassing. That is what it was - an embarrassment. There was no effort from the players ...”
Du Preez said that despite his team not being able to cope with the expected early Bulls attack, his big disappointment was that his team did not fight back.
“After their start, there was plenty of time to come back but you have to fight for every minute to do that, and we could not do that. There was just no effort,” the coach said.
Du Preez, to his credit did not blame the travel factor on his team’s limp performance.
“There was no sign of jet lag in our practices during the week. We had good sessions, yet on the night nothing went right. We just did not pitch up to play,” the coach said honestly.
Du Preez was asked whether this disastrous home loss would prompt selection changes.
“These are the same guys that played last week against the Hurricanes and were unlucky to lose. It is tough to understand that after that a good fortnight in New Zealand we have now delivered this horrible inconsistency.
“We have no choice but to take this loss on the chin and make things right against the Stormers,” Du Preez said.
The Sharks host the Capetonians on Saturday and then have a bye. A double defeat at home in home derbies will sink their campaign, surely.
The big question is how Du Preez is going to make his shamed pack of forwards competitive again in seven days because, frankly, they were pathetic against the Bulls.