Sharks may yet spring real surprise

2016-03-02 06:00

SO did you notice any difference? Better yet, did you notice that the game William Webb Ellis at Rugby School, England, changed forever when he “picked up the ball and ran” has once more made slight changes to the game’s face?

For that matter did you know that the annual Super Rugby competition is no longer an 18-team affair but has been increased to 20 teams, with the addition of the Jaguares (Argentina) and Sunwolves (Japan)? Finally, did you know that some of the laws of rugby union have been tinkered with, just a little? If the answers to those questions are all “no”, don’t worry – you’re probably in very good company! It all began on Friday night (winning teams first) with Blues v Highlanders (33-31), Brumbies v Hurricanes (52-10), Jaguares v Cheetahs (34-33) – with the last mentioned of these matches the best largely because of its fluctuating score-line.

Mostly law changes in rugby are for the best – though some wouldn’t agree. For instance back in 1950 there was this schoolboy inter-house match. Chief characters were a skyscraper flyhalf with a helluva hoof and the spindly-legged centre outside him. The lanky flyhalf directed the skinny centre to “chase as hard as you can” the bomb he intended directing skywards. This the centre duly proceeded to do.

There was a third character in this small drama, the ref. “Oom Koen” as he was known, was a bit long in the tooth and often off the pace of play.

As the drama unfolded Oom Koen saw only the skinny boy’s back and awarded a try, not seeing the knock on. It should have been a scrum, of course. Feeling bad about this it was on the tip of the youngster’s tongue to tell Oom Koen of his mistake. Suspecting this, the flyhalf told the youngster: Pasop, hou jou bek!” Luckily he took the flyhalf’s advice – because not ten minutes later the flyhalf let go another of his skyscrapers.

Again the centre collected the ball and “scored”, but not without another palpable knock-on. This time he kept his mouth shut. A few years later rugby’s governing body decided to allow the knock-on as a clean catch in the interest of speeding up the game.

The same boy is in his 80s now and still looks at the winning team’s photograph in wonder. He knows now that changes to laws that seem puzzling now could, like that knock-on, be seen in time to come as beneficial.

So to the present. After a brief jolt in PE – an early try by Southern Kings – the visiting Sharks looked a lot better as they took the home side apart 43-8 at the Nelson Mandela’s Bay Stadium. With Rassie Erasmus – generally expected to be the Springboks’ interim coach and presently assisting Kings’ coach, Deon Davids – this early Sharks’ setback seemed to suggest the visitors might struggle.

But with tries soon coming from Jean-Luc du Preez, Odwa Ndungane (2), Willie le Roux, the most polished back on the field by the proverbial mile, Lwazi Mvovo and Paul Jordaan – watch this youngster his season – the complexion of the game rapidly changed.

Much will depend on how the Sharks fare at home against the Jaguares this weekend, and the tough tests that follow against the Stormers and Bulls on successive Saturdays thereafter. Cross those bridges and the Sharks could be ready for a real meal this season.

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