Sharks show some consistency this time: lousy in both halves

2011-05-23 00:00

AT least we were more consistent this time, a disgruntled Sharks supporter muttered to his mate as they left the gloom at King’s Park on Saturday night. “We were lousy in both halves.”

And Sharks coach John Plumtree echoed that view after his team had suffered a major Super Rugby setback in losing 32-23 to the Bulls and dropping off the pace in the race to a play-off spot.

“We were poor. You cannot play like that and make that many mistakes and expect to beat a team like the Bulls,” he said.

The Sharks now trail the Stormers, the domestic log-leaders, by five points and certainly appear vulnerable, short of confidence and lacking in attacking options as they face their remaining four games with three of them (against the Cheetahs, Lions and Bulls) away from home.

The try count was shared at two apiece with the immaculate boot of Morné Steyn (two conversions, a drop and five penalties) proving the difference on the scoreboard. But from the very start — when possession was lost at the kick-off and the Bulls were gifted three points — the Sharks, frantically, untidily and unsuccessfully, were chasing the contest.

Plumtree said that the Sharks’ poor defence in the opening quarter — they trailed 6-20 — had cost them the game.

“We slipped tackles in the opening 20 minutes and let in two tries. That was pretty disappointing and our confidence took a real knock early on. We were always under pressure at the line­out and we conceded possession and penalties. The result was that we could never really get into the game.”

The Sharks, in both halves, had the territory and the possession to win this game, but time and again their efforts were undone by sloppy handling. The passing was inaccurate and laboured with the ball spilled on at least a dozen occasions when they were threatening on attack.

Even Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts kept dropping the ball, even Patrick Lambie missed tackles.

Bulls captain Victor Matfield, who in midweek had referred to the game as one of the most important of his career, said the focus had been on stopping the Sharks’ big ball-carriers.

“We planned double hits on their big runners to stop them behind the advantage line and that worked. They could never gain any momentum.”

Indeed, the formidable backrowers Alberts and Jean Deysel hardly made any impression on the night while Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira were also effectively closed down. The Sharks, without a solid platform, were forced to run the ball laterally against an organised defence and they made little headway even when they did hold on to the ball.

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said the win had been fashioned in the first half when the Bulls had applied the pressure and then taken their scoring chances.

“The second half was just about being smart tactically, taking any points on offer and making our tackles.”

He said the Bulls were keeping their feet on the ground after the victory.

“Nothing has really changed. We did what we had to do in beating the Sharks, but now we have to keep winning to stay in contention.”

Plumtree said that patience on attack had again been a Sharks’ problem with scoring chances lost through over-eagerness.

“We did get some reward in the second half when we moved the ball around, but we could never get close enough to cause real problems. The early defensive problems cost us because some players did not stick to the system. And that is disappointing.”

The Sharks will have captain John Smit (calf strain) and Keegan Daniel (suspended) back for the Waratahs game at King’s Park on Saturday, but they could be without prop Jannie du Plessis who left the field with a knee injury.

“Of course, we’ll be happy to have John and Keegan back. Keegan does ignite the rest of the players with his energy,” said the Sharks coach.

Plumtree may well be considering other changes as he goes in search of the attacking slickness, the inventiveness and the accuracy which took the Sharks to the Currie Cup title last October.

It certainly was missing on Saturday.

 

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