Sharks: There’s a great new mood

Joe Pietersen (Gallo Images)
Joe Pietersen (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Remember some of those video nasties from the innocuous, ninth-placed Sharks in Super Rugby last season?

Just to jog your painful memory, how about the 52-10 home trouncing from the no-longer-so-mighty Crusaders?

Or the 48-15 tour defeat to the Highlanders?

If that’s not enough, how about I also offer the laboured 25-21 victory at Kings Park over the ho-hum Melbourne Rebels ... despite the Aussie visitors being reduced to 14 men after 29 minutes?

On that occasion, Rebels front-ranker Laurie Weeks got the permanent marching orders for a repetitive barrage of punches to Jannie du Plessis -- with barely a Sharks team-mate in any hurry, it seemed, to climb in to the aid of the now-departed Springbok veteran.

Interestingly, there was another how’s-your-father toward the end of the Sharks’ second and final French mini-tour game against Toulouse on Thursday night ... only in this instance, whichever of the Durbanites were on the receiving end of some Gallic attempts at panel-beating quickly found themselves backed up by an avalanche of colleagues and the brawl then ceased quickly enough.

Somehow, and without wishing to glamorise that sort of conduct, the incident summed up the highly visible new “gees” in the Sharks camp.

Collectively, they just seem light years removed from the listless, lumbering lot who subsided so quickly and often meekly in Super Rugby 2015.

You have to be very wary of basing too much on pre-season fortunes, but it is hard to believe the Sharks will be anything but significantly buoyed by their successful twin raid on Toulon and Toulouse.

In each instance, they played against extremely weakened, mix-and-match combinations as the local clubs jealously, understandably guarded against exposing too many of their more prized players to the risk of injury in an inconvenient friendly in the middle of their season.

But Gary Gold did exactly the same with his own resources; in no way could either starting XV he fielded be considered close to intended “first team” for major clashes in the looming SANZAAR competition.

Instead he exposed a generous range of his extended squad to the action ... and would have been left probably feeling more satisfied than he did ahead of the venture at the depth and hunger available to him in a buxom array of positions this season.

As had occurred for the most part against Toulon, the Sharks largely looked fresh, well-conditioned and constructive both on attack and defence.

I made the point in mid-match on Twitter on Thursday that even some of the earthier members of the engine room like Lourens Adriaanse – there are fledgling signs he may belatedly “deliver” at tighthead this year for the first time since his switch from the Cheetahs -- and Etienne Oosthuizen threw themselves into a consistently all-action mode and looked more equipped in the skills department as well.

The versatile Oosthuizen, who usefully doubles as a No 4 lock and blindside flank, roamed and hunted with a zest that belies his near-120kg (but perhaps slightly slimmed-down?) frame and played  his part in a brilliant blanket defensive effort spearheaded by acting captain Marcell Coetzee.

We now know it will be the Springbok dynamo’s swansong season in Durban, sadly, but they have already extracted some five fruitful years out of him – Coetzee isn’t even 25 yet -- and he also seems determined to finish his service with a flourish over the next few months.

The Sharks filtered another of their handful of players returning from Japanese sojourns, Willie le Roux, into their mix in Toulouse and his sleight of hand was evident almost immediately as he helped engineer a slick try.

But perhaps the most pleasing development was the showing at No 10 from the young, Boland-raised Garth April, who has clearly got some X-factor, peripheral awareness and a tactical boot not lacking in conviction.

While Pat Lambie is sidelined, there is probably still a good chance that the more experienced Joe Pietersen, perhaps boasting more proven goal-kicking prowess, will deputise initially in Super Rugby, but Gold and his fellow-coaches will be resting easier now about flyhalf stocks until Lambie’s return.

They should be sleeping pretty well anyway; this was a worthwhile overseas venture that sent out extremely positive signals of a potential new beginning.

I’m rapidly beginning to suspect the Sharks will be South Africa’s top hope for overall glory this year. 

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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