KHANYISO TSHWAKU on the Vodacom Rugby portal explains why the Sharks were always going to be dealt a cruel year.
Besides the Rugby World Cup, 1995 was a seminal year for me from a rugby perspective. It was the first time I watched a Currie Cup final, albeit on TV. Two decades on, I find myself spending most of my time at King’s Park presiding over one of the worst seasons the Sharks have had in 10 years.
According to the Vodacom Rugby App, the Sharks are ranked 6th when it comes to Defenders Beaten and they have missed the most tackles of any team so far this season – 144. They are on the brink of elimination from the playoffs.
If ever the Sharks needed renewal, it was going to happen this year. However, the Sharks cannot use misfortune as an excuse for their inexplicable 2015. The malaise that has filtered into their Currie Cup campaign happened a lot further upstream.
Sustaining the momentum from the 2013 Currie Cup final success was never going to be easy and the foundations of that immediate post-John Plumtree era have been eroded. It is rather unfortunate that it happened during their 125thanniversary but with this being John Smit’s second year as chief executive, I suspect they’re having second season blues.
I was at that final where the Sharks landed body blow after body blow against tactically naive Western Province side. Not that I noticed then but with the benefit of hindsight, the Sharks had reached their domestic ceiling. Maybe it’s that unexpected early peak that lulled the Sharks into a dangerous sense of security.
Had the Sharks done well in this year’s Currie Cup, it would have plastered over the tactical and technical problems that blighted their Vodacom Super Rugby campaign. They still struggle to score tries, they cannot tackle and they haven’t found a structured and cohesive game-plan.
Those are issues that come with hard work, planning and attitude. The lack of planning and preparation, especially when the senior players moved on, is particularly glaring.
This is none more apparent than in their Under-21 side, which played in four consecutive semi-finals between 2010 and 2013. Tellingly, the two Blue Bulls props that played in the 2011 Under-21 final which the Bulls won 46-30 against the Sharks, Gerhard Engelbrecht and Juan Schoeman, now play for the Sharks.
It is hard gauge to success at that level but the sides doing well in this year’s Currie Cup are the ones who ensured their pipeline wasn’t blocked. Despite losing the majority of that team that won at Ellis Park (their recruitment approach will always result in a high player turnover), the Bulls have thrived.
Gary Gold may be on to something by backing the players he has but the Sharks have been let down by a lack of continuity. It is a harsh lesson they have learnt but adversity brings its own examinations.