Sharks defence has point to prove

Gary Gold says the Sharks’ discipline and defence will be on point when they face the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.

The Sharks were hammered 52-10 by the Crusaders at Kings Park last Saturday. It was the gutless performance rather than the scoreline that forced Sharks captain Pat Lambie as well as director of rugby Gold to apologise to fans in the aftermath.

In the pre-season, the Sharks were billed as title contenders. Two months on, after eight matches and four losses, there are growing concerns that the Durban side may not qualify for the play-offs. And in the wake of their insipid display against the Crusaders, they are anything but favourites to win at Ellis Park this Saturday.

Poor discipline and defence has cost the Sharks this season. They have conceded three red and two yellow cards in just eight matches. Two of those transgressions have already led to suspensions, with Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn forced to miss a significant chunk of the campaign.

In terms of defence, only the Cheetahs have been worse than the Sharks in 2015. These are the only teams in the tournament to have leaked more than 200 points and 20 tries.

What will concern the Sharks coaches most is the stat of 160 missed tackles in eight games. Not even the butter-armed Cheetahs have slipped that many tackles.

Gold has come in for some fierce criticism after the defeat to the Crusaders. He maintains there's enough talent and desire in this group of players to ensure the Sharks turn things around.

'We’re feeling the pain after such a poor performance, but we are still in the hunt for a play-off spot,' Gold told 'Now is the time to show some character. We can’t erase what happened against the Crusaders, but the beauty of rugby is that you have a chance to respond seven days later.’

The Lions won three of their four matches in Australasia, and recently beat the Vodacom Bulls at Ellis Park. They possess some dangerous individual runners, but the key to their relative success in 2015 has been their ability to attack effectively as a unit. This bodes badly for a Sharks defence that conceded eight tries and more than 50 points to the Crusaders.

The Sharks failed to shut down the attacking space of the Crusaders last week. They can’t afford to make the same mistake against a Lions side that endeavours to keep the ball in hand. That said, the Sharks can’t be too aggressive on defence either. They’ve already lost some key players to red and yellow cards this season.

The Sharks will need to walk a fine line if they’re going to come away with a victory at Ellis Park. It's a massive game in the context of their campaign, and the win will be their sole objective.

‘The lack of consistency has been disappointing,’ says Gold. ‘At certain stages of the campaign, we’ve shown glimpses of what we can do. We’ve played good, enterprising rugby in some games, and have also shown some character on defence in others.

‘We need to get that all right this weekend, and to build on what we are already doing well. I’ve been please with our set pieces. There's a lot to improve on this Saturday, but we mustn’t move too far away from our strengths. We need to bounce back, and we won’t look to complicate things too much.’

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli