We're black, we're white, we've lost a bit of bite
They are black, they are white. But unlike in that song of theirs, they’ve given up the fight.
In fact, if the 2013 Sharks outfit reminds anyone of dynamite, it is only in that they hold the greatest threat for their own handlers.
Here at the SuperWrap desk we’re certainly not used to writing things like that about the Durbanites. They are, after all, a team that has made it into the Super Rugby playoffs four out of the last six seasons. For much of that time they played the most balanced game out of all of South Africa’s participants, and provided the bulk of our Springbok squad.
But not this year.
Already we’ve twice been treated to the rare site of seeing them properly rattled. It happened against the Brumbies when they conceded four tries long before the halftime whistle, and we saw it again this past weekend as the Chiefs raced to a 24-0 lead as early as the 17th minute.
We’ve seen their scrum – normally one of the most solid in the competition – find a reverse-gear it never thought it had. We’ve seen them lose their cool when on-field calls don’t go their way. Most importantly, we’ve seen their attack – almost unstoppable towards the end of last year’s edition – not score a single try in more than half the matches they played this year.
Where have things gone so horribly wrong for them, then?
The short answer is we don’t know. There are enough rumours doing the rounds about their senior players being unhappy about the way mercenaries are brought in from outside the squad and then leapfrogging over established players straight into the starting team. But here in the Wrap we normally just ignore rumours.
What did get the alarm bells ringing here was the handling of Springbok stars Frans Steyn (who was allowed to pick up as much 15kg before season’s start) and Ryan Kankowski (who was played out of position and then summarily dropped from the touring squad). But even there we can’t state with any authority what the players themselves thought about it.
All we know is that the team does not look a happy one whenever we get to judge them between those four lines.
There is good news, though, and it’s not that they can expect to have the physicality of a Willem Alberts and a Bismarck du Plessis back on the field one of these days – however much that will help the rest of the team to focus on things that they’re actually good at.
No, it’s simply that they’ve been here before.
Back in 2010 they lost their first five Super Rugby fixtures. Back then we also ignored rumours about a self-imploding squad, struggling to fit both John Smit and Bismarck du Plessis into the same 22. How glad we are that we did.
They found themselves halfway through a five-week tour from hell, and had the daunting House of Pain as their next stop. No one gave them a chance, but somewhere between all those long-haul flights, those lonely hotel rooms and those icy training fields the squad learned to find their comfort in each other’s company. Everything clicked, and not only did they beat the Highlanders that weekend, they won seven out of their remaining eight matches that year.
Is the class of 2013 cut from the same cloth? They are at the same cross-roads, and if they are to change their season around it will have to happen in the same city.
Fortunately for them the Highlanders themselves are on an epic losing streak. They haven’t won a single Super Rugby match since round about this time last year.
Then again, didn’t the self-same Sharks show us against the Rebels earlier this year what happens when you mix a enough star players with just the right amount of desperation?
The point is this: a win is non-negotiable this weekend. If the Sharks fail to secure at least four points in Dunedin they will in all probability have to win in both Brisbane and Pretoria just to scrape into the playoffs. That is a prospect no one will savour, no matter how much talent you have at your disposal.
With so many personnel changes before the Chiefs match last week, they made little secret of the fact that they pretty much wrote off that fixture in Hamilton. They have their money on giving their season the old 180-degrees at the Forsyth-Barr this weekend.
We sincerely hope they get it right, that they discover this week their dynamite. It’s not only their fans that need them to; it is all of Springbok rugby.
Here are our teams of the week:
Note: our weekly teams are selected on the past weekend's action only, so overall season form is not a factor. Players in teams with a bye are then obviously not considered.
Super XV for week 11:
15 Israel Folau (Waratahs), 14 Henry Speight (Brumbies), 13 Tim Nanai-Williams (Chiefs), 12 Jan Serfontein (Bulls), 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma (Chiefs), 10 Morne Steyn (Bulls), 9 Will Genia (Reds), 8 Scott Higginbotham (Rebels), 7 George Smith (Brumbies), 6 Liam Messam (Chiefs), 5 Juandre Kruger (Bulls), 4 De Kock Steenkamp (Stormers), 3 Owen Franks (Crusaders), 2 Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), 1 Benn Robinson (Waratahs).
Bok Barometer for week 11:
15 Joe Pietersen (Stormers), 14 Willie le Roux (Cheetahs), 13 Juan de Jongh (Stormers), 12 Jan Serfontein (Bulls), 11 Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs), 10 Morne Steyn (Bulls), 9 Piet van Zyl (Cheetahs), 8 Lubabalo Mtembu (Sharks), 7 Arno Botha (Bulls), 6 Derick Minnie (Sharks), 5 Juandre Kruger (Bulls), 4 De Kock Steenkamp (Stormers), 3 Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs), 2 Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), 1 Wiehahn Herbst (Sharks).
Match of the week:
We mentioned earlier how the Sharks conceded a 24-0 lead by the 17th minute of their match against the Chiefs, but how often do you see a team still make a match of it after a disastrous start like that.
That is exactly what happened this weekend. The Sharks re-gathered and starting with their effective lineout maul worked themselves right back into the contest. Only an after-the-hooter Aaron Cruden penalty denied them a bonus point for losing by less than seven.
Here is our match of the week:
Please note that video footage is for the website only and is rights restricted, and therefore only available in regions that fall within SuperSport’s broadcast footprint.
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Try of the week:
If there is one player that gets his fair share of stick in the SuperWrap it is James O'Connor. This week he just gets a tip of the hat.
Here he is scoring our try of the week:
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- Tatafu Polota-Nau, who played in his 100th Super Rugby (SR) match this weekend.
- Coenie Oosthuizen, who played in his 50th SR match.
- Chris Pollock, who refereed his 50th SR match.
- Beauden Barrett, who passed the 100-point mark this season.
Here is this week's look at what players got up to on Twitter:
|The latest in our series called "Rugby players roughing it up on tour". Charl McLeod took these from the team’s day off as they traversed the South Island, took a helicopter to the Milford Sound and landed on a glacier.
|Bandise Maku was clearly enjoying the rubdown he was getting…so much so that he tweeted this photo
|Bryan Habana couldn’t wait to tell the world that these rolls, in his hotel in New Zealand, reminded him of former teammate Bakkies Botha. The mind boggles...
|The Stormers met up with Trevor Noah in Sydney on their night out to go see his show That’s Racist. Being fanboys themselves, they couldn’t help snapping a few pics – ala Siya Kolisi
"Imagine them running for the pie cart"
Our friends in Australia posted this one - the top five Fatman tries on Rugby HQ on Foxsports. Not surprisingly three of them are by South Africans, the only place in the world where bellies add to your athleticism. There’s also a nice little acceptance speech at the end.
Ref puts his foot down
All this talk of rising petrol prices and e-tolls has most of us in a spin, but the same cannot be said of up-and-coming ref Archie Sehlako.
Sehlako has been a touch judge, sorry assistant referee, in Super Rugby and is a future Super Rugby ref if he continues his rise.
He let us know this week of his travel plans via twitter, explaining that the present petrol price was no bother.
“This month I used the taxi system and had fun! Next month I'm using the train, it's so cheap. R151 for the whole month! June I'm walking! Suddenly I don't care about the petrol price,” Sehlako tweeted.
We just hope Sanzar or SA Refs don’t hear about this, they may just see an opportunity for more cost-cutting…
Warm baths, cold feet
Player blogs are relatively common nowadays, we have a few on our own site after all. Nic Groom’s latest offering on the Stormers website had our attention, though.
He told us that the players were encouraged to visit the local “warm baths” which were described as “a winner” by their New Zealand friend “John”
But let Nic take over the story, he tells it best.
“The warm baths sounded like a winner in my opinion, so we rounded up a bus full of guys and headed to Waihera for some hot pools located in the mountains,” Groom writes.
“So with very high hopes we set off north in search of these awesome baths, but after NZ$20 and a cramped bus ride, we found ourselves in the NZ equivalent of a heated Newlands pool and a few kiddies slides.
“The majority of the people there were under the age of 12 and Eben (Etzebeth) was actually taller than one of the slides. We decided to concede defeat and head back home with our towels between our legs. In hindsight it was the right decision as everyone agreed that De Kock’s (Steenkamp) beard would have creeped all the kids out and we would have been asked to leave anyway.”
Team of the 90s?
If we filled any of you with nostalgia for the early 90s with that Sharks song we wrote about earlier, we have just the thing to snap you out of it: