Rejuvenated Sharks wait on Steyn
The positives the Sharks should have taken out of Saturday’s fine fightback against the Chiefs in Hamilton have been partially off-set by yet another injury as well as the citing of Frans Steyn.
Steyn has been cited for alleged foul play during the 37-29 defeat to the Chiefs, with the citing commissioner calling him up for a clean-out at a 78th minute ruck that he considered dangerous. Sharks coach John Plumtree is reportedly confounded by the allegation, but the fact of the matter is that Steyn could be ruled out of the next game if his disciplinary hearing, set for Monday, does not go his way.
That would be the last thing Plumtree would need right now, particularly as Steyn looks to have trimmed down significantly in a very short space of time and, on the evidence of his performance against the Chiefs, where he played at outside centre, is certainly heading back to his combative best.
The Sharks face the struggling Highlanders in Dunedin this coming Saturday in a match that the success of the tour, and possibly the Durban team’s entire campaign, hinges on. It has already been confirmed that they will be without nuggety scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, who is returning to Durban with injured ankle ligaments.
It is an ailment that Reinach sustained in being tackled from behind after a break that should have netted the Sharks a second bonus point were it not for the brain explosion that saw skipper Keegan Daniel penalised off the last move of the game.
But while the Steyn situation, the Reinach injury and the late concession of what should have been another bonus point will be downers for the Sharks, they have every reason to be upbeat as they look ahead to the rest of the tour. A bonus point was probably the most that they hoped for before this past weekend’s game, and they have the influential presence of JP Pietersen as well as Lwazi Mvovo heading back into the selection mix for the next game.
Springbok flank Willem Alberts is not far from being ready to play again, and neither is Bismarck du Plessis, so if the Sharks can get back onto the winning trail again in Dunedin, it could be the start of a momentum push similar to the one that took them from nowhere to the Super Rugby final in 2012.
Certainly the Sharks should have good reason to be hopeful that even in defeat the Hamilton game was a turning point for them, as they rediscovered the ability to score tries. They scored four in the match to end more than 280 minutes where they were unable to cross the opposition line across three and a half games.
The passes that were going to ground in the previous game against the Cheetahs started to stick, and overall the Sharks started to play a more enterprising brand of rugby again, even though it was really the forwards who got the edge over the Chiefs that enabled the visitors to score 29 points to 13, and four tries to one, in the last hour of the game.
What was particularly positive for the Sharks, apart from the confidence that may now be flooding back into the players now that they have scored a few tries, was the way that the depth was grown by the decision to rotate in selection. No 8 Tera Mtembu was a particular revelation and was lauded by Plumtree afterwards. The loose-forward looks at home at Super Rugby level and looks a promising star of the future.
Patrick Lambie also started to get it together again at flyhalf after a couple of very iffish weeks in the No 10 jersey, while the handling skills and ebullience of loosehead prop Wiehahn Herbst and the impressive cameo performance provided by reserve hooker Kyle Cooper were also encouraging.
Indeed, the team that finished against the Chiefs was always going to be the core of the side that would start against the Highlanders, and in that sense the Sharks should be smiling as at the finish they were going like a boeing. They will have JC Janse van Rensburg available to play for them on Saturday as he has been loaned from the Lions and he should bring further stability to the scrum.