The Sharks need to maximise their set-piece strengths and improve their defence if they are to snap a five-game losing streak in Sydney this Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Sharks must stop lying to themselves. There were competitive at times in the recent match against the Hurricanes, but overall, it was a performance that lacked consistency.
Director of rugby Gary Gold has lamented one refereeing decision that denied the Sharks a try in the second half. However, not enough has been made about the Sharks' shoddy showing in the first stanza, a period in which they leaked two soft tries.
The Sharks defence has been poor in 2015, but was particularly bad in the clash in Wellington. The Sharks averaged 22.5 missed tackles going into that match (the worst record in the tournament). They would sink to a new defensive low in the Kiwi capital when they slipped 28 tackles over the course of 80 minutes.
Gold's team has now lost five games in succession. One more defeat will equal the franchise's worst run of consecutive losses. At present, the class of 2000 holds that awful record.
And if this Sharks side is going to snap their losing streak this weekend, they will have to do it the hard way. Word from the Waratahs camp is that last year's champions are desperate to get their 2015 campaign back on track after a loss to the 14th-placed Force. They won't be wanting for motivation, and they won't be underestimating the Sharks.
How good have the Waratahs been in 2015? Do their wins provide an insight? They are the only side to have beaten the Hurricanes this season. Their two victories against the Brumbies, another play-off contender as well as their chief rival for the Australian conference title, are equally significant.
But then the Waratahs' losing efforts also shed some light on their form. The Force have won just two games this season, and both have been against the Waratahs. While the Sydney side went unbeaten at home in 2014, they've already lost two of their five home games in 2015.
This season, the attack-minded Waratahs rank among the top five teams for metres made, carries, offloads, clean breaks, passes and defenders beaten. But when they have come up against a team with a physical forward pack and a well-organised defence, that attack has not been effective. The two matches against the Force could be used as evidence, as could the 32-18 loss to the Stormers in round nine.
The Sharks have been physical this season, albeit in patches. The opening 10 minutes of the recent game in Wellington were particularly brutal, with Bismarck du Plessis and Marcell Coetzee proving especially effective at the gainline.
While the team was inconsistent on defence, Du Plessis contributed strongly in this area, and made a couple of important turnovers that led to counter-attacking opportunities. The Sharks will hope Du Plessis has recovered from the knee injury sustained in Wellington, and that he features in Sydney. There's also a chance that Willem 'The Bone Collector' Alberts could be back this weekend to inflict his unique brand of punishment.
And yet, the Sharks will need more than a couple of strong individual performances if they're to repel and ultimately beat the Waratahs. The pack needs to fire as a unit this Saturday, and the back division needs to turn in an equally cohesive showing on defence.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images