Sharks in fruitful friendly

2015-02-07 00:00

WHAT was touted to be an ­exciting, free-flowing match ­between the Sharks and Toulon ended up being a typical ­Northern Hemisphere affair.

The Sharks won the match ­12-10, which will please Gary Gold and his coaching staff. There was no shortage of ­passion and intensity, but the cold and wet conditions led to a hard-fought, tight affair.

The Durban outfit went up against a quality French side, with a number of South Africans in Bryan Habana, Michael ­Claasens and Gerhard Vosloo in their ranks as well as some ­quality internationals.

Wet conditions led to a ­colossal battle between the two packs, which was an ideal test ahead of the Super Rugby competition. Considering the tight nature of the clash, it wasn’t ­surprising to see Bismarck du Plessis leading from the front.

The burly Springbok hooker was highly competitive in the tight loose and a long rest seems to have reinvigorated his ­fighting spirit. He led the way at the breakdown and affected a number of turnovers while he was brazen on defence.

He was followed closely into battle by Marcell Coetzee and the very impressive Renaldo Bothma, who joined the Sharks from the Pumas this season.

Both the flank and eighthman were dogged in their approach but faced a stern test from ­Argentine international Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe and former All Black Chris Masoe — who were not shy to get stuck into the physical stuff.

The Sharks set-pieces were fairly solid, while Matt Stevens struggled somewhat in the scrums, which was not expected considering he plied his trade up north for so many years.

Pieter-Steph du Toit’s long-awaited return went well and he was industrious in the tight loose and the lineouts. However, the injury-hoodoo seems to still be with him, as he left the field after a knock.

Tough conditions also left few chances for the Sharks’ backline to get going but flyhalf Pat Lambie directed play well and put his side into good positions with his boot.

His opposite number, ­Argentina’s Nicolas Sanchez, ­also had a good game and was directly involved in both of ­Toulon’s tries through Australian wing David Smith.

A neat cross kick from ­Sanchez put Smith in for his first try, while Sanchez delivered the final pass to Smith who dived over in the corner for his second.

Overall, the pre-season clash proved fruitful. Toulon were highly competitive, being in the middle of their season, and the physical nature of the clash means the Sharks will go into the Cheetahs match next weekend far more battle-hardened.

It also gave Gold and his brains trust a final look at the wider group of players who travelled to France.

However, the importance of depth is already rearing its head. Watching Cobus Reinach, Du Toit and Etienne Oosthuizen going off injured showed once again that injuries in key ­positions could easily hamper the Sharks this season.

Giving their wider squad ample opportunity to get some much needed early season game time could prove influential in a few weeks time — if players ­succumb to long-term injuries.

The Sharks face the Cheetahs in their first Super Rugby clash in Durban next weekend. Kickoff on Saturday is at 5 pm.

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