Tired Sharks second successive loss

2009-04-19 00:00

THE Sharks, jaded and battle-weary, have a Super 14 bye this weekend and the break cannot come soon enough.

John Plumtree’s team battled manfully, if untidily, through a tense, tight game against the champion Crusaders on Saturday evening and finally went down 10-13. It was their second successive loss and has thrown the race for the play-offs wide open again.

But for two second-half fumbles when faced by an inviting try-line, a remarkable, diving tackle on Odwa Ndungane by Crusaders wing Colin Slade, and some marginal calls by South African referee Mark Lawrence, the Sharks would have had their win.

But the Sharks look tired and they playing tired rugby, their sharpness on attack and defence blunted by 10 weeks of intense rugby and travel.

Significantly, the Waratahs, who with the Sharks have had to wait until the 11th week for their week’s break, also lost at home at the weekend, going down 14-15 to the Western Force.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder highlighted the importance of the bye after Saturday’s game.

“Our bye last week could not have come at better time and we were lucky.

“We would never have won this match a week ago but the guys were refreshed, re-energised and excited about playing the Sharks this weekend and we had a week’s extra preparation.”

Coach Plumtree is hoping the bye will have the same positive impact on the Sharks.

“We have had 10 weeks of tough rugby but it has been the injuries to five or six players for four of five weeks which has been the real problem,” he added.

“We haven’t been able to freshen up and rotate the players as a result.”

Plumtree is expecting to have a full squad for the May 2 meeting with the Highlanders at King’s Park.

Physical flank Jean Deysel played for the last quarter and immediately provided the pack with go-forward ball while centre Waylon Murray also made his return. Plumtree is expecting Ruan Pienaar to be at flyhalf, allowing Frans Steyn to switch to centre.

He said that captain and lock Johann Muller, who limped off in the second half, was suffering from a bad bruise “with no structural damage.”

“Just to have a few days off, and switch off mentally and get away from all the intensity, will be really good for the players,” he said.

Certainly the Sharks looked flat-footed, particularly in defence. Gone is the effective rush defence of the past and instead they waited on their heels in midfield, allowing the Crusaders to run at them and build up a head of steam.

This led directly to the Crusaders’ only try (by Riche McCaw) as their backrow forwards combined effectively as they attacked the advantage line and the static defence.

The Sharks also lack cohesion and creativity on attack, relying on the individual efforts of Rory Kockott, Ndungane, Frans Steyn and Adrian Jacobs to create the openings.

Still, the desperate Sharks should have wrapped up this match in the second half when fresh legs off the bench, and their improved play in the set pieces, helped them gain some momentum. On a number of occasions try-scoring opportunities were allowed to dribble away with Odwa Ndungane and usually dependable Stefan Terblanche spilling the ball on the Crusaders’ line.

Plumtree was convinced the Sharks should have had a first-half penalty try when the Crusaders broke up as they were being pushed over their line but said the lost chances in the second half had cost the Sharks victory.

Blackadder highlighted the role played by McCaw.

“This performance (after five weeks on the sidelines) is testament to his character. He is a real inspiration and his experience helped us come through a really tight game.”

Plumtree was happier talking about what lies ahead.

“No doubt now, we can’t afford to slip again if we are to make the play-offs. But when we get back from our break it will be good and the players will be ready.”

The Sharks coach said he had the big game players who would react well under pressure.

“We know exactly what we have to do. It’s going to be huge and we can expect some fireworks at the Stadium for the last three weeks.”

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