Sharks’ dismal scrummaging sees sloppy Stormers win

2015-03-09 00:00

THE early signs were encouraging, but the Sharks became progressively more ragged and finally disappeared without trace in losing 29-13 to the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday night.

The Sharks started with a spring in their step, winning the first-half territory battle and placing the untidy, sloppy Stormers under pressure. But eating away at the Sharks right from the start was their dreadful scrummaging. The Stormers, as expected, exploited this soft underbelly of the Sharks scrum as Steven Kitshoff bullied Saracens and England veteran Matt Stevens, and this had a dramatic effect on the mood and flow of the game.

The Sharks, remarkably, lost three­ ­successive tightheads at the start and then conceded three scrum penalties early in the second half as the Stormers took control.

The Sharks, quickly out of their blocks and prepared to run and off-load, initially threatened as Pat Lambie, behind his advancing forwards, attacked the gainline. But it all went horribly wrong in a series of poor scrums as the Sharks lost critical possession, territory and their discipline.

At one stage hooker Bismarck du Plessis even ran up the white flag, opting for a 22-metre drop-out rather than a Sharks scrum 55 metres downfield. And that decision, folks, came from a member of that dark front-row society.

Their problems were only starting. A speculative clearance by Stormers flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis produced a horrible bounce for the hesitant Sharks defenders but rewarded enthusiastic chaser Johnny Kotze with a try. The Sharks did respond positively as they took the ball through the hands and a Lambie wrap-around produced a try which had the Sharks in front 10-7 after the first quarter.

But that was just about as good as it got for the Sharks. As their scrumming woes continued and their frustrations grew, the indiscretions mounted. The Stormers led 13-10 at the break and were then hardly challenged in the second half as they were awarded a string of penalties which not only took them 19-10 ahead, but broke the Sharks’ flow of possession and momentum.

The killer blow came after 66 minutes when out-of-touch Cobus Reinach, for the umpteenth time, had a clearing kick charged down and the Sharks scrumhalf was then off-side when he played the ball in the in-goal area.

Jaco Peyper quite rightly awarded a penalty try and the referee was again on the button five minutes later when exasperated Sharks centre Frans Steyn, who spent most of his evening chasing down and flattening the slightly-built Cheslin Kolbe, tackled the fullback late and was sent to the cooler.

The Sharks had a beef at Lotfus last weekend, but this time no one could fault the referee and his officials. Indeed, Steyn looked like a guilty batsman who has edged the ball to the ’keeper and starts walking before the umpire lifts his finger. Certainly Steyn was edging towards the touchline before Peyper reached for his yellow card.

When things go wrong for these Sharks, they tend to go badly wrong. What was surprising was that on the night, and in spite of all their struggles, they only conceded two tries, one the product of a bad bounce and the other Reinach’s moment of silliness.

They were fortunate that the Stormers, in spite of possessing exciting runners like Kolbe and a powerful centre in Damian de Allende, lacked organisation and accuracy on attack.

The Sharks, on the other hand, had neither the possession nor the territory in the second half to respond with much more than a whimper.

While the Sharks, through the ­hard-working Pieter-Steph du Toit, had the better of the first-half lineouts, problems in this area surfaced in the second half while they were also denied quick ball by the Stormers’ improved form at the breakdown.

The Sharks’ returning Springboks made little impact. Willem Alberts, typically abrasive, was the pick while Steyn hurled his body around, generally in the direction of Kolbe, and JP Pietersen lingered without flourishing.

But, for the Sharks, it really was not good enough — again — and there are more tough times ahead. They now face the Cheetahs away and then the dangerous Chiefs, the New Zealand leaders, in Durban.

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