Midfield stingers

2015-03-03 00:00

THE Sharks could not have asked for a better pick-me-up this week as they recover from a slightly controversial 43-35 loss to the Bulls on Saturday night.

Much like a greasy breakfast and painkillers cure a hangover, the Sharks received their prescription ­medication in the form of Springboks JP Pietersen and Frans Steyn who joined training yesterday after finally wrapping up club commitments in Japan.

Their arrival is well-timed as the Sharks have now lost two of three games and desperately need some sting in their midfield as the on-form Stormers loom like a tempest this weekend.

The Sharks understandably felt aggrieved after a couple of controversial refereeing decisions cost them Saturday’s game — most notably Bulls fullback Jesse Kriel’s forward pass that led to their opening try — but defence coach Michael Horak shied away from focusing on uncontrollable aspects of their loss.

“We can’t influence the referee’s decisions. There might be one or two where we will say, ‘He could have done this or could have done that’ but at the end of the day we’ve got to look at ourselves and what we can make right this weekend. Those are the things we can influence and that is where our energy goes into,” Horak said after practice yesterday.

Meanwhile, director of rugby Gary Gold called for match officials to be consistent in the calls they make.

“That first Bulls try and the other TMO decision that disallowed the try Odwa set up were critical — they were game-changers in a much bigger sense than we can understand. It went from us potentially winning the game and getting a fourth try, to losing the game with a bonus point, then to losing it without a bonus point,” Gold said.

One would expect heads to be hanging low after a confidence-crushing loss, but the attitude at training was far from it. Gold was biting at his players heels during certain drills — pushing the intensity of the session which Horak believes was a big part of their loss, reminiscent of their round one defeat to the Cheetahs.

“It is disappointing to lose a match that we fought so hard to get back into. But we have to look at ourselves — there were certain areas where we let ourselves down, especially defensively.

“I think we looked a bit lethargic on the weekend. We weren’t ourselves energy-wise and we’ve had a chat about it. Today we had a really good training session and the boys have taken the message on board and it looks like we’re back to our old selves again.”

They are certainly back to a Sharks outfit of yesteryear, with Pietersen and Steyn back in the fold. Both players are looking fit.

Steyn in particular is looking a lot like his ­19-year-old self from the 2007 World Cup. With pressure rising, Gold might be tempted to throw both players back into the starting line-up while Horak couldn’t confirm if both would slot in this weekend.

“That’s still a point of discussion. The ­Springboks weren’t here today and we’re having a meeting this afternoon about selection. But both JP and Frans look in fantastic physical ­condition. They’re healthy and they’re world-class players so it’s great to have them around. They’re a great asset to the union.”

Alongside the return of the Japanese contingent, Beast Mtawarira has made quick work recovering from an ankle injury and could be back in the side this week, while Willem Alberts has trained for two-and-a-half weeks and is set to return either this weekend or the next.

“I think we’re in a fortunate situation. The ­conditioning and rehab staff have done a fantastic job so we should be able to select a strong line-up for this weekend,” Horak said.

Meanwhile, Jean Deysel could face a few weeks off as he is on crutches. The Sharks’ next port of call is a trip to Cape Town this weekend against a firing Stormers outfit that beat the Lions 22-19 at Ellis Park on Saturday night.

Travelling to Newlands will be a tough task, but ­Horak said that energy is key if they are to beat the South African conference leaders.

“I just think the energy was lacklustre — as I say it’s being addressed and we all take responsibility ­because it wasn’t good enough and we put ourselves under a lot of unnecessary pressure.”

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