The Sharks were their worst enemies on Friday night as they succumbed to a fourth defeat in Parma and ended their European tour winless after going down 12-10 in a defeat against Zebre.
It was a game of little highlights for the Durbanites. And except for their defence which was mostly rock-solid, it was not a performance to write home about.
They head back to South Africa with their tails between their legs and plenty of work to do to get their United Rugby Championship (URC) season back on track.
Some crucial interventions on defence saved the visitors from an even bigger defeat as winger Werner Kok, and centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, amongst the backs, and hooker Dylan Richardson and flanker James Venter made some crucial hits, especially late in the first half.
The Sharks’ maul defence was good as well and it stopped plenty of drives Zebre tried to launch off their lineouts.
But their error rate on the attack was sky high and that is one aspect that halted their momentum entirely.
In the first half players were falling over each other, and knock-ons happened that should’ve been regulation catches. The Scrums struggled to keep up with Zebre and the home side had the Sharks under the pump, winning penalty after penalty at the set piece. And the balls dropped from high kicks bordered on criminal.
None of the Sharks players looked comfortable fielding kicks under pressure.
Zebre also gladly lapped up the penalties the Durban side gave away, and a late converted penalty paved the way for the win in the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi as the winning side and their supporters celebrated this famous win.
Briefly after a yellow card to Aphelele Fassi in the second half, it looked like the Sharks were going to spring to life to seal the game. They were still leading by that stage and a converted try would’ve seen them go two scores clear of the home team.
But more errors on the attack stifled it. Late in the second half replacement lock Hyron Andrews received a red card for dangerous play and that send-off sealed the fate of his side.
The only highlight of their game was the massive defence – in the end, that was in vain. And that wrap-around of winger Aphiwe Dyantyi created space on the right-hand side on the attack and allowed the team to score a good try to take the lead. That was Sharks play that head coach John Plumtree wanted to see. But they could not sustain it due to the errors.
They can take very little positives from this match, and it’s clear that the missing Springboks and injuries massively impacted their performance overseas. They can now look forward to a return to Durban where they will lick their wounds but also try to get back onto the horse as quickly as Monday ahead of a clash with Connacht.
Sharks 10 — Try: Cameron Wright. Conversion: Boeta Chamberlain. Penalty: Chamberlain.
Zebre 12 — Penalties: Geronimo Prisciantelli (3), Jacopo Trulla