The Sharks’ crack defensive system and kicking plan has earned them more tries than any other South African team as well as top spot on the log, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Sharks are playing with power, intelligence and belief. Compare their performance in the first round clash against the Vodacom Bulls with the display they produced against the Jaguares this past Saturday. It’s only in the recent rounds where their execution has matched their physical and tactical intent, and marked them as a class apart.
The Sharks are riding high at the top of the Vodacom Super Rugby log for a number of reasons. They’ve shown that they can convert opportunities from point-blank range via a well-executed maul. As we explored in a recent analysis, the Sharks – like the better New Zealand teams – have the ability to shift from defence to attack.
One of the big keys to their recent success has been the execution of their kick-chase strategy. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. The Springboks utilised these tactics throughout their successful World Cup campaign while England recently employed a series of high bombs and cross-kicks to unsettle and fracture Wales in a crunch Six Nations clash.
The Sharks kicked 21 times in the first half of Saturday’s match. It was interesting to see the Sharks taking the Jaguares on in this manner, given that the Argentinians are ranked first for kicks and second for kick metres in this year’s competition.
There’s not much an opposing team can do, however, when a side executes as the Sharks did on Saturday, though.
The clip below shows Curwin Bosch – who hasn’t got enough credit for his attacking and tactical-kicking contributions in 2020 – thumping the ball into the sky. The chase by the Sharks turns a good kick into a great one.
S’bu Nkosi times his leap to perfection to beat Joaquin Diaz Bonilla in the air. The ball bounces back into the hands of James Venter. The Sharks are now in a prime position against a fractured Jaguares defensive line.
Consider the next clip. The Sharks have organised themselves into an attacking formation very quickly. The cleaners arrive as Venter hits the deck and the next man in flings the pass to Louis Schreuder, who finds himself at first-receiver.
The Jaguares did a fair job of getting back to set the defensive line, given how fast the Sharks flew up after Nkosi’s initial aerial win. Schreuder feigns a pass to a pod of forwards before hitting a relatively deep Ox Nche – who was everywhere on Saturday – and exploiting the Jaguares’ weakness on the left-hand side.
The finishing from there is nothing short of outstanding. Nche holds the ball up beautifully to check the Jaguares defence, Andre Esterhuizen tips it on, and then Hyron Andrews does brilliantly to keep the final defender in two minds.
Schreuder has come in for some stick this season. Sanele Nohamba has produced some inspiring displays from the bench, and more game time would certainly aid his development.
One can understand why coach Sean Everitt has backed Schreuder, though, when one looks at clips like the one below. The box-kick against the Highlanders has plenty of height and distance, and allows Madosh Tambwe ample opportunity to pressure the recipient and knock the ball back on the Sharks’ side.
Perhaps another key to the Sharks’ success in 2020 is the number of men they have committed to the chase. As seen below, Kerron Vuuren has kept up with Tambwe and is well placed to make the catch and pass.
The communication and execution here is terrific, as the hooker barely takes a breath before shifting the ball to James Venter, who flies through the gap and scores.
The officials disallowed a try at Kings Park last Saturday after it was confirmed that the Sharks had knocked the ball forward in the buildup. It was a sublime piece of play, though, regardless of the outcome.
The Jaguares were fractured and scrambling back, and Bosch was quick to identify the space on the left-hand side. A pinpoint cross-kick was well chased by Makazole Mapimpi, who collected the ball on the bounce and raced into the end zone.
Some might say that the Sharks have enjoyed more than their fair share of luck this season – even though there have been a few instances, such as the aforementioned disallowed try, where they have been denied.
One shouldn’t underestimate the pressure the Sharks have applied through their defence and kicking game, though, and how this has created opportunities. On many occasions, they have generated their own luck.
In the first game against the Bulls, the Sharks found themselves on the front foot deep in opposition territory. Bosch slightly overcooked the cross-kick, but an excellent chase by Nkosi put the defender, Rosko Specman, in two minds.
The ball bounced, and before the Bulls wing could adjust, Nkosi dotted down within centimetres of touch-in-goal.
The Sharks rank third for kicks from hand per game and sixth for kick metres per game. The liberal yet intelligent use of the boot certainly hasn’t hampered their ability to cross the line.
On the contrary, an offensive defence and pinpoint kicking game has significantly contributed to their 23-try tally. Only the Reds (26) and Chiefs (24) have scored more tries in this year’s competition.
Photo: Steve Haag Sports/Hollywoodbets