The Sharks will need to make astute adjustments to their approach when they return to action after this weekend’s bye, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Saturday, the Sharks’ four-match unbeaten streak came to an end. Despite an immense defensive effort against the Crusaders, they ultimately succumbed to a five-point loss.
Afterwards, SuperSport analyst Nick Mallett quite rightly pointed out that the Crusaders had created three tries, while the Sharks had benefited from effectively two intercept tries. On almost that basis alone, he suggested there could be no arguments that the Crusaders were worthy winners.
There aren’t likely to be many observers of Saturday’s game who would argue with that assertion. The Crusaders, quite simply, played all of the rugby. As illustrated by the Vodacom Stats App, the Saders ran 554m to the Sharks’ 205, made 15 clean breaks to three, 107 carries to 49, 215 passes to 52, and 17 offloads to one.
The Sharks were also forced to make more than twice the number of tackles, and while the two teams kicked a similar amount of times from hand, it was notable that the Crusaders were able to field double the number of kicks.
The statistics are so lopsided it’s hard to fathom how just two points separated the sides heading into the latter stages of the clash, which is a credit to the Sharks’ incredibly improved defence and predatory instincts. They will also head into this weekend’s much-needed bye relatively satisfied with their start to the season, having banked 16 log points from their first five matches.
Yet there will also be some sobering self-analysis. In their last three games, the Sharks have come off second best in terms of the territory and possession stakes, while perhaps most worryingly, their tackle tally is already beginning to rack up. It’s simply unsustainable.
After their third-round game against the Stormers, director of rugby Gary Gold acknowledged that the Sharks couldn’t afford to keep on spending as much time on defence, and it was a point he reiterated at half-time against the Crusaders.
It’s an area of real concern, especially considering the coastal side are now set for a gruelling sequence of seven matches before their next bye. During this period, the Sharks will be only too aware that they have to begin to protect possession better, add greater accuracy to their kicking game and offer more with ball in hand.
In a recent conversation with Gold, he mentioned that while being thrilled with the Sharks’ improvements on defence, so many other elements of the team’s game needed to be in sync in order to execute an effective attack.
A sound set piece is certainly one of them, and in this regard the manner in which this aspect of their game malfunctioned against the Crusaders would have been a source of disappointment, while some of their kicking inaccuracies would not have gone unnoticed.
Beneficially, the Sharks have a bit of time now to address and rectify these fundamentals, while also putting some new plans into place in order to enhance their attack.
Indeed, there could be a case to afford talented Garth April a start after his Super Rugby integration off the bench, while the underused S’bura Sithole is another elusive player who has the potential to offer a different dimension to the team’s backline. Versatile loose forward Keegan Daniel also has the ability to add some extra experience and mobility to the back row.
The Sharks have made a solid – if unspectacular – start to this season, but a young side is set to face an even sterner test of their mental and physical resolve over the next couple of months. It now remains to be seen if they can pass that examination and begin to play with a bit more freedom and flair.
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