Flyhalf Fred Zeilinga showed composure in the big win against the Waratahs. It's an encouraging sign for the injury-hit Sharks, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Saturday’s game at Kings Park was anything but a classic. The discipline of both teams was poor, while the decision-making and execution on attack left a lot to be desired.
I make this statement in observation of both collectives. There were a few individuals who shone, and encouragingly for the Sharks, one such player was the man making his first start at No 10 in Super Rugby.
Zeilinga certainly didn’t look out of place. This may seem like faint praise, but considering this clash was between two of the pre-season favourites, it was always going to be a test. The pressure was on the Sharks, and, indeed, the man replacing Pat Lambie, to deliver.
Zeilinga produced some impressive performances for the Sharks in the 2013 Currie Cup. He was dropped when Lambie became available in the latter stages of that tournament, which was to be expected considering Lambie’s experience and credentials as a Springbok.
Lambie sustained a campaign-ending injury in last week’s game against the Bulls, and many felt that Tim Swiel or Frans Steyn would be asked to fill the void in that crucial No 10 position. Coach Jake White surprised a few people when he opted for Zeilinga, the solid, if not spectacular, option. White should feel vindicated following Saturday's performance.
Herein lies Zeilinga’s value. He showed the necessary composure against the Waratahs, whether he was kicking from the tee, distributing the ball in midfield, or clearing from within his own territory. He stood up to the Waratahs on defence. Significantly, Zeilinga lived up to his reputation as a player with a low-error rate.
This was an encouraging showing by Zeilinga as it proves that he can be an asset to the Sharks as the season progresses. Zeilinga is fortunate to have experienced players on either side, with Charl McLeod at No 9 and Steyn at No 12. He will grow stronger and more confident over the next few weeks.
It will also help to have Steyn as an alternative when it comes to the goal-kicking, or the kicking for field position. The Sharks will miss Lambie, who brings all the required skills to that No 10 position. And yet, their kicking game may not suffer as long as Zeilinga and Steyn continue to operate in tandem.
What the Sharks need to do is start playing to their strengths more consistently. Despite the losses to their pack, they still have some powerful forwards. This past Saturday, they did not use that pack to full effect. The game was played at too quick a pace, and this led to a series of handling errors.
They scored via the rolling maul in the 49th minute. The Waratahs were a man down at that point, but it was a well executed lineout move, and that too must be seen as encouraging.
Zeilinga added the extra two, and eventually finished the evening with a perfect seven-from-seven goal-kicking record.
He made a massive tackle in the 60th minute to knock the ball out of a Waratahs player’s hands and kill the visitors’ momentum. He’s not the biggest player in that flyhalf channel, but he's shown that he can be effective.
The 21-year-old proved that he can do a job for the Sharks, and White would do well to persist with him at No 10 for the remainder of the Durban side’s campaign.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images