Mixed emotions after Sharks win

2009-05-03 00:00

THE Sharks have regained the winning trail after two successive losses, but they are in trouble, on and off the field, as another Super 14 season draws to a tense conclusion.

John Plumtree’s team beat the Highlanders 23-15 at King’s Park on Saturday to stay fourth on the log, but the decline in their rugby and the loss of their two halfbacks — Frans Steyn to yet another Sharks’ knee injury and Rory Kockott to a red card — has left the tournament favourites of a few weeks ago looking decidedly vulnerable.

Steyn injured his knee in the final quarter, received treatment, played on, but then limped off the field minutes later.

“Frans is not looking good, but we are not sure of how bad it is,” said Plumtree. “It’s another one of those knee injuries we have had, that’s the sixth, I think, this season.”

Plumtree said that Kockott’s reaction to a heavy tackle off the ball, a blow to the face of Highlanders flank Adam Thomson, in front of the main grandstand and the television cameras, was a “brain explosion.”

“I think it was frustration at some of Thomson’s behaviour at the breakdown, but Rory could be out for a week or two and that is a big lesson for the young player.”

Plumtree said he had mixed emotions after the win though irritation with his players was the one closest to the surface when he spoke to the media.

“It’s a win, no more. It’s hard to be over-positive after that. We had so many chances and should have picked up five points. We have probably also lost two players (Steyn and Kockott).”

The Sharks head coach was critical of his players and said they were showing “no respect for possession”.

“Our decision-making in the collision areas is poor. Players see a half-chance as a full opportunity and offload and we lose the ball. There were seven turnovers from inaccurate catching and passing in the first half and that is not good enough.”

Hooker Bismarck du Plessis, intense and over-enthusiastic, again had problems retaining possession in the contact and that is worrying both for the Springboks and the Sharks. The robust hooker is central to the Sharks’ game plan and, along with Jean Deysel, is constantly used to take the ball up after possession has been recycled. And, because he is so heavily involved, Bismarck’s retention skills are pivotal to the Sharks’ game plan.

Certainly the most impressive feature of the Sharks’ game was the scrummaging and more should have been made of the massive advantage that the Bok front-row of Beast Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis and John Smit gave them in the first half when they were playing front foot rugby against disrupted opposition.

“The scrum is a real weapon for us,” said Plumtree, “and it will be for the Boks.”

But Plumtree has problems in other areas. Kockott’s disciplinary hearing is today and it seems certain that he will be suspended for a couple of weeks, while Steyn could be sidelined for even longer.

Plumtree said he hoped to have Adi Jacobs back in midfield — medical opinion still seems to be divided about whether he needs surgery or not on his shoulder — and the returning Ruan Pienaar, playing off the bench, appeared to come through most of the second half on Saturday without problems. But, of course, this is all academic if the Sharks keep dropping the ball as they did in losing to the Crusaders and in failing to secure a bonus point against the Highlanders.

The Waratahs on Saturday and the Bulls a week later will be far more ruthless than the Highlanders in punishing them. The Sharks have to quickly find their intensity and accuracy in both attack and defence if a Super 14 campaign, which started with a resounding bang, is not to end in a tame whimper.

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