Having blown away the Bulls in round one, Jake White's Sharks added resilience to their growing list of qualities against the Hurricanes, writes RYAN VREDE.
Under White the Springboks became an incredibly well-rounded side, one equally adept at the technical and mental disciplines of the game. Most notably, they showed their mettle under pressure at the World Cup, a tournament, particularly in the knockout rounds, which tests this aspect of a team's health like no other.
Certainly White benefits from having a number of senior Springboks in his ranks at the Sharks. However, it mustn't be forgotten that this same team lost a number of close matches at Kings Park in 2013 (Brumbies, Cheetahs and Bulls), and despite the 27-9 scoreline against the Canes appearing to be comfortable, it wasn't until a 65th-minute intercept that resulted in a try and Adam Hill's yellow card shortly thereafter that the Sharks assumed control.
Until that point the Canes had been physical and defiant, especially on defence. A lesser team could well have faltered, but the Sharks look a side clear in their purpose and confident in each other and their structures.
I'd guess they are still some way off being the team White envisions. The next step in their evolution is negotiating a challenge like the Hurricanes by identifying and adapting to the opposition's strategy, and capitalising on the pressure they create through tries. Notably, for a while they've appeared short of a backline player or two with sheer X factor, and White, as a coach, has the appeal and influence to attract players of this ilk at some point during his tenure. The future, if White resists the appeal of an international gig that's sure to come at some point, looks promising for the Sharks.
This cannot be said about the Bulls and Stormers, who explored incredible levels of incompetency in defeats at the weekend. For supporters of either of these former South African powerhouses, fears of a woeful campaign aren't unfounded. Even at this early stage the situation looks dire.
The Stormers have regressed sharply in the past three years under Allister Coetzee, and 2014 has the potential to see them hit rock bottom. They pride themselves on their defence, but conceded 34 points against a Lions side that will be among the bottom-placed come the end of the league phase. Their attack reached a new level of sterility and won't improve because such improvement would require a level of proficiency in coaching this facet of play that is beyond their limited coaching staff.
The effects of another mass exodus, their second in as many years, is clear to see at the Bulls. They are in a transition phase, the length of which will be determined by how quickly they get their young side gelling, and their ability to attract some marquee recruits. A major concern is that at this stage their situation demands an astute coach whose tactical aptitude, man-management and ability to inspire through vision casting is critical. Frans Ludeke doesn't have those qualities in the measure they require. Taking an established team to a Super Rugby title is one thing. Rebuilding one with an eye on restoring and sustaining the strength of their challenge is quite another.
White has no such concerns. In many ways he has benefited from the foundation laid by his predecessor, John Plumtree. But they needed a catalyst to make the next step. White can be that man.
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