Missing props key in Sharks defeat by Stormers

2015-03-10 00:00

SHARKS director of rugby Gary Gold prophetically said it before the match and his words rang true as the Sharks desperately missed their Springbok props in Saturday’s 29-13 loss to the Stormers.

Springboks Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis took no part in the fourth round of Super Rugby and the Sharks endured a beating at scrum time as a result.

Thomas “The Tank Engine” du Toit and former English tighthead Matt Stevens took their place in the starting lineup. While they actually performed well in open play, both were given a hiding by the Stormers front row at scrum time — with Stevens taking the brunt of it.

It seemed fitting that forwards coach Brad Macleod-Henderson spoke to the media yesterday, as he is best suited to talk about the murky underworld of forward play.

“We struggled, but in the first half we had one or two good scrums as well, so we were probably a bit inconsistent, they seemed to get the roll on us and unfortunately we lost that area of the game,” Macleod-Henderson said.

Supersport analyst Nick Mallett slammed Stevens’ performance on the weekend, questioning his recruitment to the Sharks as he nears the end of his career. But Macleod-Henderson shied away from blaming individuals.

“Scrummaging is an all-eight effort and we were a bit inconsistent. Everyone is hurting, not just the forwards. We know that our set-piece didn’t function as well as we would have liked and that’s an area we need to get right on Saturday.”

In contrast, Jannie du Plessis has had a promising start to the season and missed out on the weekend due to Saru requesting contracted Springboks to be rested strategically this year. The birth of his daughter last week also factored in to Gold’s decision to rest the Bok tighthead.

“Jannie is a world class player and he’s a fantastic scrummager. We have three quality tightheads and three quality looseheads so we just need to make sure that the eight who start and the guys who come off the bench are all on the same page and put in a better performance in the scrummaging area than this past weekend.”

Although the Sharks were poor in the set-piece, the match was very much in the balance at half time. But a penalty try in the second seemed to put the match out of the Sharks’ reach.

“We were just six points behind after a penalty by Pat, but we didn’t exit from the kick-off, were charged down and they got the penalty try, so it was definitely a big momentum shift,” Macleod-Henderson said.

Before that point in the match, the ­return of Boks JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn and Willem Alberts had a marked effect on the visitors performance. Steyn and Pietersen linked up well in the midfield and did their best to contain a barnstorming Damian de Allende.

Alberts carried the ball with his usual gusto even after a lengthy injury lay-off and put in some massive hits on defence. Their return pleased the coaching staff and Macleod-Henderson hopes they continue to sharpen up in the coming weeks.

“They are quality players, but it takes time to settle back into the team. They’ve got one game under the belt and I’m sure they’re just going to get better and ­better.”

“I thought Willem was massive. He played for 50 minutes and was outstanding, giving us a lot of momentum in the carry, defensively he was very strong and it’s great to have him back. His foot was hurting him a bit and 50 minutes first week back is quite enough work.”

The Sharks are likely to have Beast and Jannie back in the front row, while ­Pieter-Steph du Toit did not train yesterday. But Macleod-Henderson said they were expecting the Bok lock to be ready for this weekend’s clash.

After three losses in four games, the Sharks are under a huge amount of pressure and there can be no sugar-coating the fact that they need to start winning matches. They lost to the Cheetahs in the first round but fans are being assured the lesson was well-learnt.

“At times we tried to play a little too much rugby, we had quite a lot of possession, and they pretty much kicked back at us and kept us in our own half and they took their opportunities when they came. We have to make sure we play the game in the right areas and make sure we exert some pressure on them,” ­Macleod-Henderson said.

“We’re four games in and there’s still a long way to go, but we need to start making sure we’re more accurate in what we’re looking at doing.”

The Sharks travel to Bloemfontein this weekend for the clash. Kickoff is at 5 pm on Saturday.

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