Sharks lose their bite

2015-03-02 00:00

ROOKIE referee Jaco van Heerden will be the fall guy, but the Sharks were also badly exposed as they were beaten 43-35 by the Bulls on Saturday evening.

Van Heerden, making his first Super Rugby appearance and with confusing support from television match official Johan Greeff, made a number of critical errors on the night. But so did the Sharks and they paid a heavy price for their lack of discipline, both in organising their ­defence and in conceding penalties.

The Sharks did show both courage and commitment to fight back from a series of setbacks, some self-inflicted, others forced on them by the officials, to lead 35-33 with eight minutes remaining. But a couple more penalties, and another ­debatable TMO call on centre Jan ­Serfontein’s try after the final hooter, and the Bulls were celebrating a full haul of five points. The Sharks went away with nothing.

Frankly, after weeks of introspection and recriminations, the Bulls will not give a damn about the quality of the ­officiating. They will savour their first win of the season, the 4-2 try-count, the style of their rugby — they occasionally ran with the ball while the Sharks kept kicking it — and the influence which the astute, if niggly Victor Matfield had around the lineout.

Just about everything the Bulls touched on the night turned to gold. Rudy Paige, included at scrumhalf, probed the Sharks’ porous defence around the rucks and fashioned two tries; the Bulls’ limitations in the front-row were nearly seriously tested because there were, remarkably, only four scrums, their defence was resolute and Matfield and company stole half-a-dozen Sharks’ lineouts. Matfield also illegally goaded Bismarck du Plessis in front of the referee and his assistant, won the penalty when the Sharks captain responded and ­received not a word of admonishment.

It was another disappointing night for the Sharks. They were heavily punished early on by Van Heerden, conceding six penalties inside the first 15 minutes, ­before they allowed enterprising Bulls and former Maritzburg College fullback Jesse Kriel to run into acres of space on the counterattack and float one (forward) pass for wing Francois Hougaard to score. Easy as you like and they were 16-6 down after the first quarter.

They were also found wanting around the fringes where scrumhalf Cobus Reinach left yawning gaps for backrowers ­Deon Stegmann and Pierre Spies to run off Paige and score.

There is no shortage of commitment in this Sharks team, but technically and in terms of defensive organisation they appeared vulnerable.

Their conservative approach will again have disappointed their supporters as they opted for a Jake White-territory game rather than the brave fresh rugby which their coaches have banged on about this season. Flyhalf Pat Lambie picked up where he had left off in the wet against the Lions, applying pressure with the boot and reducing the Sharks’ backs to chasers and tacklers. On the rare occasion they opted to run and off-load, Ryan Kankowski rounded off the good work done by Renaldo Bothma, an ­improved SP Marais and Odwa Ndungane for the Sharks’ first try. Reinach, on an otherwise indifferent night for the scrumhalf, scored the Sharks’ second try from a charge down.

The pick of the Sharks’ players was again lock Pieter-Steph du Toit. While he had some first-half problems in the lineout, his workrate, skill, enthusiasm and determination were highly ­impressive.

A feature of the night was the remarkable goal-kicking by both teams with Lambie (25 points) and the Bulls’ Handré Pollard and replacement Tian Schoeman succeeding with all 18 attempts at goal.

And just a final point on the referee. The 32-year-old Van Heerden, a Pretoria advocate, is clearly highly rated by Sanzar and he is a referee for the future. But quite why he was appointed to make his debut at Loftus — when he could have handled the game down the road at Ellis Park later that night — is curious. Having a nervous local refereeing in his home town in a match of this importance added unnecessary pressure, and was unfair on both him and the players of both teams.

Perhaps, in a court of law, it would have been termed a conflict of interest and may have formed the basis for an appeal, but on the rugby field teams have to lump it.

And certainly the Sharks have more than enough problems of their own as they lick their wounds and prepare to face the buoyant Stormers at Newlands this weekend.

SCORERS

Bulls – Tries: Francois Hougaard, Deon Stegmann, Pierre Spies, Jan Serfontein. Conversions: Handré Pollard (3), Tian Schoeman. Penalty goals: Pollard (4), Schoeman.

Sharks – Tries: Ryan Kankowski, Cobus Reinach. Conversions: Pat Lambie (2). Penalty goals: Lambie (7).

Saturday’s results

Lions 19 - 22 Stormers

Bulls 43 - 35 Sharks

Rebels 15 - 20 Brumbies

Chiefs 40 - 16 Crusaders

Friday’s results

Cheetahs 25 - 24 Blues

Force 13 - 42 Hurricanes

Highlanders 20 - 13 Reds

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