Super Rugby preview: Sharks

The Sharks will play more with ball in hand during the 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby season.

Don’t say we didn’t tell you. We did. We predicted Jake White’s stay at the Sharks would be a short one and when news of his resignation broke in September 2014, we weren’t as stunned as so many Sharks supporters were.

White’s hit-and-run was, well, a hit. Under him, the Sharks were hard to beat, particularly at Kings Park, where they lost just twice. However, both those defeats were against sides they were reasonably expected to beat – the Highlanders and Stormers – and in the final analysis it cost them a home semi-final. Winning one knockout match after long-haul travel Down Under is a tough ask. Winning two … near impossible. They did neither, dropping out in the last four for the fourth time in their history.

White had a Springbok-laden squad to work with, and youngsters of appreciable talent. Anything other than a semi-final finish should have been seen as a failure. You got the sense that that was the current group’s best shot at the title, with many of them seemingly on a downward form curve. This rings true for the likes of the Du Plessis brothers Bismarck and Jannie, and, to a lesser extent, Beast Mtawarira.

However, fatigue may have been their assassin, and they may return rested and motivated to excel in a World Cup year. They have a string of quality kids coming through their ranks, none more so than Thomas du Toit and Pieter-Steph du Toit, and will once again be among the top sides in the tournament.

Under White, the Sharks were criticised for their style of play, that saw them kick more from hand than any other team. New director of rugby Gary Gold has said that while White deserves credit for the success he brought to the Sharks, he wants his side to show an attacking philosophy in a big way in 2015 and make use of their great game breakers out wide.

Loosehead prop Thomas du Toit was playing schoolboy rugby in 2013, but has since become a key member of the Sharks squad thanks to his solid scrummaging, powerful ball-carrying, good work rate and efficiency in general play. Ominously for his opponents, he should be even better in 2015. In Du Toit the Sharks have found a highly competent deputy for Beast Mtawarira, one that allows them to rest or rotate the Springbok without any dramatic drop-off in quality. This will allow Mtawarira to stay fresher for longer, while simultaneously grooming a player who will be a Springbok in the near future.

Pat Lambie
will want to make a statement of intent in the months leading up to the World Cup. Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer started him on the end-of-year tour after Handré Pollard struggled against Ireland and Lambie will know that the position is his to lose. His skills are extensive and include sublime touches, like the chip kick that sent Willie le Roux clear to set up Cobus Reinach’s try against England in November. The sharpness of mind required to assess a defensive line filled with hulking men hellbent on flattening you is a quality only the very best 10s possess and Lambie, when he is playing with the confidence that comes with being backed, certainly is among the best in the world.

Mouritz Botha (Saracens, England)
Renaldo Bothma (Pumas)
Lionel Cronjé (Brumbies)
Conrad Hoffmann (Brumbies)
Lubabalo 'Giant' Mtyanda (Pumas, on loan)
Waylon Murray (Bulls)
Matt Stevens (Saracens, England)
Jack Wilson (Saracens, England)

Jacques Botes (retired)
Anton Bresler (Edinburgh, Scotland)
Keegan Daniel (Kubota, Japan)
Jean Deysel (Toyota, Japan)
Hansie Graaff (EP Kings)
Wiehahn Herbst (Ulster, Ireland)
Peet Marais (Brive, France)
Charl McLeod (Grenoble, France)

216 – The number of lineouts the Sharks won on their own throw in 2014 Super Rugby (Rank 1)
11 – The number of lineouts lock Stephan Lewies stole (Rank 2)
553 – The number of times the Sharks kicked from hand (Rank 1)
29 – The number of tries they scored in 16 league matches (Rank 14)
70 – The number of clean breaks they made, including 12 by Lwazi Mvovo (Rank 13)
1,384 – The number of tackles they made (Rank 15)
8 – The number of yellow cards they received, second only to the Cheetahs among the South African sides (Rank 5)
90 – The number of kicks caught by fullback SP Marais (Rank 2)
76 – The number of penalty goals the Sharks converted (Rank 1)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App

New director of rugby Gary Gold has signed a three-year contract with the Sharks

14 February vs Cheetahs (h)
21 February vs Lions (h)
28 February vs Bulls (a)
7 March vs Stormers (a)
14 March vs Cheetahs (a)
21 March vs Chiefs (h)
28 March vs Force (h)
4 April vs Crusaders (h)
11 April vs Lions (a)
18 April vs Bulls (h)
24-26 April BYE
1 May vs Highlanders (a)
9 May vs Hurricanes (a)
16 May vs Waratahs (a)
22 May vs Reds (a)
29 May vs Rebels (h)
5-6 June vs BYE
13 June vs Stormers (h)

Won: 12 (67%)
Lost: 6

1996 – 4th (finalists)
1997 – 4th (semi-finalists)
1998 – 3rd (semi-finalists)
1999 – 7th
2000 – 12th
2001 – 2nd (finalists)
2002 – 10th
2003 – 11th
2004 – 7th
2005 – 12th
2006 – 5th
2007 – 1st (finalists)
2008 – 3rd (semi-finalists)
2009 – 6th
2010 – 9th
2011 – 6th (qualifier)
2012 – 6th (finalists)
2013 – 8th
2014 – 3rd (semi-finalists)
Note: Played as Natal in 1996 and 1997
Super 12 from 1996-2005, Super 14 from 2006-2010, 15-team Super Rugby from 2011

Pat Lambie

Bulls preview
Cheetahs preview
Lions preview
Stormers preview

Photo: Gerhard Durand/BackpagePix

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