Sean Everitt’s bold approach to selection and strategy has reaped significant rewards for the Sharks in the early stages of 2020, writes JON CARDINELLI.
How much do the Sharks players believe in the gameplan and in their own abilities? How badly do they want to win big matches for their franchise and for their coach?
These questions were emphatically answered in Brisbane on Saturday. The Sharks did not panic when they were three points behind at half time. They did not fall apart when the Reds threatened to hit back on the hour.
Experienced players and coaches will tell you that a touring side is at its most vulnerable in the second half of the fourth game abroad. The Sharks, however, managed to lift their physical efforts on attack and defence during this period.
The chief decision-makers pushed through the mental fatigue to make game-winning plays. Six minutes after the full-time hooter, when the game was already well won, the Sharks ran from their own line with the outrageous intent to claim a try-scoring bonus point.
That second-half performance told you everything you need to know about the individuals in the current Sharks group and indeed the unity of the collective.
Consider where the Sharks were less than a year ago. The same questions would have yielded very different answers and highlighted the structural and cultural issues at the franchise.
In 2019, the Sharks’ gameplan was one-dimensional and largely risk-averse. Rob du Preez Snr’s determination to back his son – Rob Jnr – at No 10 had a negative impact on the team as a whole.
Consider where the Sharks are in 2020. Everyone at the franchise has spoken about the importance of transformation and inclusivity. The makeup of the team over the first five rounds should be used as evidence that the Sharks – and more specifically Everitt – are walking the talk.
Everitt has made good on his word to back Curwin Bosch consistently at flyhalf. He has given younger players like Aphelele Fassi an extended run in the starting lineup and he has given promising rookies like Sanele Nohamba the chance to show what he can do at Super Rugby level.
The Sharks’ tactics have been equally bold. They’ve used their defence and tactical kicking as offensive weapons. The manner in which they have transitioned from defence to attack – utilising the running and handling skills of Fassi, Makazole Mapimpi and a reborn Sikhhumbuzo Notshe – has marked the team as serious contenders.
The results indicate that this Sharks team is one of substance. They’ve banked four wins in five games – three of those in Australasia. One would expect the Sharks to build on this great start to the season and push for the South African conference title – as well as an all-important home playoff.
The Sharks don’t have the depth of the Stormers. It will be interesting to see how Everitt responds when a few of his senior forwards are ruled out with injuries.
The Sharks coach has shown his intent to rotate the back row and the backline over the first five weeks, though, and the team even managed to score a big win against the Rebels in round four without their inspirational captain.
Can the Sharks beat the Jaguares in Durban next week to move to the top of the conference standings? The Stormers suffered a big defeat to the Blues and won’t have an opportunity to add to their log tally when they have a bye in round six. The Sharks – who are one point behind the Cape side – could well move into pole position.
As well as they performed in Brisbane, the Sharks would do well to avoid falling into the same trap as the Stormers. The latter team was punished by a less fancied yet ultimately more physical and accurate side at Newlands on Saturday.
It’s encouraging to think that this Sharks side has room for improvement and that individuals such as Fassi will grow stronger with experience. They will need to sharpen their game at the set pieces and attacking breakdowns, though, if they’re going to overcome a dangerous Jaguares side.
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