Johannesburg – The Sharks will hope that their recent hiatus from the United Rugby Championship will have afforded them the opportunity to reassess their form, and find a degree of consistency in the application of their game plan.
The Sharks are three wins from five, but have lacked stability in their performances. Against Zebre – in their first game of the URC – they stormed to a 28-3 lead, only to lose interest during the second half, winning narrowly 42-37. A week later, against the Dragons, the disinterest was reversed half-wise, the Sharks only taking matters seriously in the final stanza.
They held their own against Leinster in the first half, but then crumbled in the second. Against Glasgow Warriors, at home at Kings Park for the first time, they swept aside the Scottish team with ease, only then to come completely unstuck against the Bulls at Loftus before the break.
Consistency then in play, selection and surroundings will be the key word going forward at their Durban base. They can certainly find that consistency in the coming weeks, especially in the URC, when they play four games at home, starting with Cardiff on Sunday (6pm kickoff).
Selection and play-style might have to wait a few weeks longer.It is a tough schedule ahead, one that involves Champions Cup clashes between URC commitments, so the break that the Sharks extended squad has had in November – their bevy of Springboks notwithstanding – will have been important to align them in that cause.
Earlier this week, Vincent Tshituka revealed what the squad had been doing during the November international break, and how it will help them going forward.
“Most of the players had at least two weeks off,” said Tshituka.
“It was very much time needed off, as we are about to go into a heavy block of fixtures and there is going to be a lot of rugby. When we got back, we worked on the aspects of the game we felt we needed to improve after the Bulls game.”
As explained by Tshitika, that focus involved looking at the set-pieces as there is a belief within the camp that Cardiff will target them at scrum-time. The other area is in defence.
The Sharks are ranked by the URC stats as the second-worst team defensively in the competition, having missed 99 tackles in five games and conceding 45 turnovers – the worst in the tournament. Tshituka specifically highlighted this area, recalling the recent 40-27 loss to the Bulls as the point of departure.
“One of the aspects that we definitely wanted to touch up, was our defence,” said the flank.
“A lot of the time, it wasn’t a system thing but rather individual errors. Everyone must be present every moment for the full 80 minutes of the game.
“We felt that we had good parts in the Bulls game, but it wasn’t consistent enough to overcome them on the day. If we can add consistency, we can bring a world-class performance for the full 80 minutes.”
The Sharks will be without at least 12 Boks for their encounter against Cardiff this weekend.
Director of rugby Neil Powell & Co seem loath to rush back any players that were on SA A duty, if their training session earlier this week is anything to go by, so the matchday 23 could be a big surprise when it is announced on Friday.
Rohan Janse van Rensburg is back in the mix after suspension, however, and was spotted training with the team earlier this week. Utility-back Lionel Cronje, meanwhile, could make an appearance off the bench having recuperated from a broken arm.
Sharks possible starting XV: 15 Anthony Volmink, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Marnus Potgieter, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Thaakir Abrahams, 10 Boeta Chamberlain, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Sikhunbuzo Notshe, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 James Venter, 5 Justin Basson, 4 Gebrandt Grobler, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Dian Bleuler