DURBAN – The dust has settled on the Sharks’ Super Rugby campaign but it will be shaken off in just three weeks’ time when the Durbanites resume their season when they host the Bulls in the opening round of the Currie Cup.
For coach Robert du Preez that will have meant just over a month of introspection on the good, the bad and the ugly of a Super Rugby campaign and to have forged a battle plan for the second half of the season.
The Sharks would have set their Super Rugby sights on a home quarter-final instead of the suicide mission that is an away play-off against the Crusaders, and the players will know that they have only themselves to blame for not fully delivering on their potential.
“Inconsistency is obviously something we have to look at,” Du Preez said yesterday in a wash-up interview with The Mercury. “We are so disappointed we did not get a home play-off and we are asking ourselves why we blew hot and cold. There were plenty of indications that we are going in the right direction, the 11 players selected for the June internationals confirms that, but what we saw in Super Rugby was a Sharks team that is yet to mature.”
An illustration of Du Preez’s point was the team line-ups for the Sharks v Crusaders quarter-final in terms of Super Rugby and Test caps. The Crusaders boasted 514 All Blacks caps and 1 700 Super Rugby caps, while the Sharks had 160 Bok caps, 100 of them belonging to The Beast.
“We are really inexperienced,” Du Preez emphasised. “When things go right for us on the day we can be magnificent, but when we have a few hiccups, the guys struggle to deal with it. At this level, a couple of mistakes can be game changing. The more you train and play together, the better you play the big moments. It will come.”
Looking at the matches the Sharks did not win, it was never a case of the players not putting in effort, the exception possibly being the blowout against the Rebels where the players did not seem to have pitched for work.
There was also the hammering at home against the Bulls but, in hindsight, that first game back from tour was always going to be tough for the jet-lagged Sharks.
“I can’t fault the commitment of the guys in the games or in training,” Du Preez said. “I honestly feel that we are a team that is still gelling, and it takes time. Also, one thing I learned this year is that there are no easy matches any more. A number of teams have picked up their games. For example, the Sunwolves beat the Stormers and the Bulls, and the Aussie teams improved this year.”
Apart from the passage of time, what can Du Preez do in the Currie Cup to hasten the maturity process?
“First of all, we regard the Currie Cup as a continuation from Super Rugby, it is extremely important for us and we will give 110 percent to improving our game,” Du Preez stressed. “We want to iron out our problems and build on the good points.
“Look, if you want to win Super Rugby you have to be equally good at attack and defence. You can’t just be good on defence, which has often been the case with us. The Crusaders are a benchmark and they have conceded just 39 tries and scored 86. We scored 50 tries, so we are behind the top teams there, but it is encouraging that we created so many try-scoring opportunities. We just have to get better at our conversion rate,” Du Preez continued.
“I know we are on track in terms of scoring more tries. We started a new way of training in pre-season in that we did everything with the ball. We wanted to get better at offloading because it is the best way to kill the defence. And we did ... We made more offloads than any other team and Jean-Luc (du Preez) made more offloads than any other player.
“Now we have to get better at it. We are asking the question ‘who makes the decision to offload?’
‘The ball carrier or the support runner?’ In most cases it is the support runner. We will improve with this through repetition in training and in the Currie Cup games.”
Du Preez says that a big part of the modern game is being slicker in the transition from defence to attack and from attack to defence.
“We will be doing more simulation of those situations. I believe that will take us to the next level. It comes with time and unfortunately is not something you can switch on.
“Overriding everything is opportunity to attack, and that is about identifying space,” Du Preez said.
“In training we have to practice game situations that will improve identification of space and therefore opportunities. I want to spend a lot of time on that.”