Sharks beat Jaguares to move to the top of the SA Conference
DURBAN – It is difficult to believe that less than a year ago the Sharks lost 51-17 to the Jaguares at Kings Park given the almost contemptuous manner in which they disposed of the Argentinians and surged to the top of the South African Conference on Saturday.
And on the sparkling evidence of this display it is difficult to believe the Sharks will be dislodged from that No 1 spot — the difficult overseas tour has been successfully consigned to history while their arch rivals in the Stormers still have to head Down Under — but it is more the irrepressible brand of rugby they are playing that stamps this Sharks team as serious title contenders.
If we were to compare this Sharks performance to the one that perished miserably against this same tem last year it is that stifling structure has given way to liberating freedom of expression. These Sharks play the game with an unbridled sense of enjoyment, free from the threat of coaching censure, and with wonderful camaraderie.
To borrow from the French they play with an espris de corps and panache that has been absent from the Sharks’ ranks for way too long.
In short, they are having fun while being deadly serious about their business at the same time, and it is quite remarkable how the Sharks have been fixing themselves this season while on the march. To illustrate, their set piece in the first match against the Bulls was pitiful and was not much better in the early tour matches against the Highlanders and Hurricanes, but by the final tour match — two weeks ago against the Reds — there had been substantial growth in this area.
The Sharks had on average the worst success rate in the lineouts and scrums of all 15 teams going into yesterday’s match because of those early failings but through sheer hard labour those frailties have been shored up and the set pieces functioned relatively sweetly against an international pack.
We have known from the outset that the Sharks have arguably the most dazzling back three in the competition, often sparked by the frighteningly talented Aphelele Fassi, so with a pack rapidly pulling itself up by the bootstraps, the Sharks are on a relentless upward curve.
If the tight five has improved dramatically, what about the form of the Shark’ loose trio? Sikhumbuzo Notshe at No 8 has won rave reviews all season and scored a spectacular try, but I thought the two flanks that were rested for the Reds game were in the vanguard of the impressive forward effort — Tyler Paul and James Venter were bundles of energy that constantly got up the noses of the opposition.
Kudos to coach Sean Everitt for having the foresight to rest them the week before in Brisbane with this SA Conference derby in mind.
If you add the confidence with which generals Curwin Bosch and Louis Schreuder are managing their team’s game, you get an idea why the Jaguares had no answer for much of the game. This is the Pumas masquerading as the Jaguares yet they looked like amateurs when the Sharks ran at them.
Again, going back a year, Bosch was a sad shadow of the player he is today, mostly playing off the bench as a fullback substitute. Now, with the backing of the new coach, he is realising the rich potential most have always known he has and his game management yesterday was impeccable, with inch-perfect cross kicks twice setting up tries.
The Sharks this week host the Stormers in what should be a cracking showdown and then they still have one more match — a home game against the Chiefs — before they at last have their first bye.
The way they are playing, they might not want it.
Tries: Hyron Andrews, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, André Esterhuizen, Kerron van Vuuren.
Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2). Penalties: Bosch (3).
Tries: Santiago Carreras, Sebastian Cancelliere, Joaquin Tuculet.
Conversions: Joaquin Diaz Bonilla (2).