The number of times the Sharks won the contestable kicking battle predictably drew comment from coach Sean Everitt after his team’s excellent 33-19 win over the Jaguares, but he was also right to praise the progress being made by a sometimes maligned pack.
If you looked at the set-piece stats for the Super Rugby season going into Saturday’s King’s Park game, the criticism of the Sharks’ set-piece play was valid - they were in last position a 15-team competition in both lineouts and scrums.
However, in the past two games, there has been a marked improvement, and it is a timely one as the Stormers head to Durban for an appetising top of the conference showdown next weekend.
“The progression of our set-piece play has been really pleasing,” said Everitt.
“We were getting criticised for not being up to it from a set-piece viewpoint. We know as coaches that set-piece is always a big part of performance and if you don’t have that you can’t expect to keep winning. So we’ve been putting in a lot of hard work on that and it has been pleasing to see the guys start to get it together. As you would have seen in this game, there has been a massive improvement.
“We scored a maul try and we did very well in stopping their maul. We had to do it many, many times, as from 50% of their lineouts they drove and they mauled. That takes a lot out of you from a fatigue perspective. We know we need to keep building on that as we know there is another big challenge waiting for us next week.”
The Stormers will be arguably the strongest pack the Sharks will have faced thus far, for although the Cape side has lost three Springbok first-choice World Cup-winning forwards in the form of Pieter-Steph du Toit, Bongi Mbonambi and Siya Kolisi to injury, they are still a strong unit. But the performance against the Jaguares will improve their Sharks’ confidence in their ability to meet the challenge.
What should also spur the Sharks is the knowledge that if they can blunt the Stormers pack, on the evidence we have seen so far this season, they have a better all-round game-plan than the Stormers do with more threats across the board. In beating the Jaguares, the astuteness of the Sharks’ coaches in plotting the oppositions’ demise again shone through.
The Sharks’ attacking kicking game was outstanding against the Jaguares, and while halfbacks Louis Schreuder and Curwin Bosch should take credit for the accuracy of their field kicks, it was the effectiveness of the chase that stunned the Jaguares and saw the Sharks propel into a significant early lead.
“Credit must go to Curwin and Louis for those box kicks but don’t forget how we handled them out of the air. We turned them over with great aerial skills from (Sbu) Nkosi and (Makazole) Mpimpi. That was part of our plan, but we needed to execute and execute accurately and we did that, so credit must go to those players.”
At one point, the Sharks looked destined to bag a try-scoring bonus point and an even bigger win but the Jaguares predictably came back in the last quarter, when Everitt felt the effects of the travel back from Australia caught up with his men.
“There was definitely no lack of effort, it was fatigue that caught us up in those last 20 minutes,” said the Sharks coach.
“I have had experience (as an assistant coach then) of playing the Hurricanes once before in a similar situation (when we’d just come back from tour). We won that game too but the guys had to dig deep at the end, and we had to do that here too. Until you experience that trip back from Australia you have no idea of how much it takes out of you.
“It is not a direct flight back from Australia. You have to fly from Brisbane to Sydney first, and you have to wake up at 3am on the day of departure. I am incredibly proud of the guys. I said to them in the change room after the game that this time last week we were in Brisbane, we were in Joburg on Monday night as we missed our connecting flight. To put in a performance like this, with that sort of energy and enthusiasm, was just an incredible performance.”
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