DURBAN – For the Sharks and Akker van der Merwe it is a case of facing the Sanzaar music this morning as the combative hooker goes before a judicial hearing to explain his Mixed Martial Arts attack on opposite number Schalk Brits.
Hopefully the judicial committee spills the beans afterwards, because we would all like to know just what riled Van der Merwe to the point that he lost all control. Brits himself was no angel, and it might come to light that Van der Merwe was provoked.
The pair received red cards for the fracas, but the post punch-up punishment will surely extend for weeks, possibly months. If Sharks centre Jeremy Ward got five weeks for a dangerous tackle, what will Van der Merwe get for his relentless pummelling of Brits?
The reality for the Sharks is that this episode will put the team under serious pressure. To be blunt, they are running out of hookers.
Chiliboy Ralepelle has not played this year because he is under a doping allegation cloud; Craig Burden, the 33-year-old who was expediently brought in to cover for Chiliboy, has had two injuries during training since he signed for the Sharks a few weeks ago, and his latest bicep problem required surgery on Friday, meaning he will not be fit for some time.
Now Van der Merwe is likely in for a hefty ban, which leaves two youngsters in Kerron van Vuuren and Fez Mbatha. They are undoubtedly talented, but obviously short on the experience that is so valued in a competition as tough as Super Rugby. And what happens if one of them gets injured?
The Sharks are also thin on the ground for midfield cover after the suspensions to Ward and Marius Louw.
Discipline seems to be a problem at the Sharks this season, with three consecutive matches now producing three Monday morning judicial hearings.
On Saturday, after the Sharks lost 19-16 to the Bulls, coach Robert du Preez was asked for his thoughts on the red cards.
“It is a very tough one... In the heat of the moment these things can happen. But we can’t condone that. We have to control ourselves better. That was not great,” Du Preez said.
Du Preez was understandably crestfallen at the post-match press conference. His team have now won three and lost three, with two of those in the sanctuary of Jonsson Kings Park. And it is not going to get any easier for the Sharks in the weeks to come.
They are away to the Lions on Friday night and then, after home games against the Jaguares and Reds, they go overseas for games against the Waratahs, Crusaders and Chiefs.
Du Preez said individual errors cost his team dearly against the Bulls.
“We did everything to win the game, but didn’t,” he said.
“Our possession and territory stats were outstanding and we created a bunch of opportunities, but we made individual errors which cost us. We know these derbies can go either way, and it went against us because of the mistakes.
“We should have survived the last scrum of the game (which resulted in a match-winning penalty for the Bulls) and got the ball back. So at crucial times we made mistakes that they capitalised on.”