The Sharks match against the Jaguares will act as an acid test for their capabilities against the premier sides in the tournament, the likes of the Crusaders, Chiefs and even Brumbies writes James Dalton for SA Rugby Magazine
The Sharks backline has fired so far this season, behind a relatively inexperienced pack who have actually held their own. Saturday will be the perfect test of these young but promising forwards, against a mature and settled Argentinian pack. While they have been strong on attack and defence, and competitive at scrum time, the Sharks line outs have been poor, in fact statistically the worst in the tournament. This is a crucial element that needs to be addressed going forward, and that they can’t afford to neglect against the Jaguares. The high penalty count racked up by the Sharks is another area of concern, especially against a team like the Jaguares who aren’t particularly disciplined either.
While the Sharks have impressed both myself and the rugby public, with their high-pressure, high-intensity style of rugby, they should be weary of letting this become their achilles heel, as on occasion their approach has imploded and backfired on them. I’ve said it before, but no team, no matter how conditioned, can keep up 80 minutes of rush defence week in and week out without it being to their detriment eventually – 38 missed tackles against the reds being an example of this. The Sharks should look to combine the rush approach with an inside-out defensive strategy which would ensure that they’re not left open on the outside as much. On the topic of the outside, Sbu Nkosi’s return bodes well, he’s a huge asset and could definitely provide the spark that the Sharks will need come Saturday. It will be incredibly close but hopefully the Sharks can keep their momentum and come away with a narrow win.
Looking further down the coast to Cape Town, the Stormers implosion was bound to come some time, as they were continuing to rely on up front dominance and when they didn’t get that against the Blues, were left a bit clueless as to how to respond. They seemed to also lack urgency and were unable to get up and rectify their mistakes. While many may feel that the bye week offers a good break, I disagree. I think what is needed following a loss like the one the Stormers suffered, is to try and address the issues at training, put in a strong follow up performance and then continue with the momentum from there.
South Africa’s interest will be in the returning Durbanites this weekend, as the Stormers rest, and my interest will be in whether their pack can stand their first real test yet.