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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Du Preez in a familiar position

Cell C Sharks coach Robert du Preez must feel like a broken record when he speaks to the media after his team’s failures.

Phrases such as “the attitude wasn’t there” and “we failed to pitch up” have been consistent utterances from him at press conferences, and the same held true after his team’s loss to the Vodacom Bulls at Kings Park. There appears to be a sequence that the Sharks are caught in that they can’t get out of – play well one week and then badly the next.

Even though they hadn't lost in Durban before the Bulls game, there had been poor showings, such as the draw with the Rebels and a narrow win over the Southern Kings.

Make no mistake, the Bulls did play well for their 30-17 win. While the Pretoria union has struggled this season, individual players came good playing for the Springboks and South Africa A, and people involved with those camps warned after the international break that there was a new intent among the Bulls players. With John Mitchell taking over shortly, everyone wants to prove themselves.

It is also true that the Sharks team quite literally wasn’t the same one that beat the Stormers just before the break. There was no Lwazi Mvovo at fullback, no Kobus van Wyk on the wing, no Lukhanyo Am at outside centre, no Ruan Botha in the second row, no Jean-Luc du Preez at blindside flank, and no Tendai Mtawarira in the front row.

Had Van Wyk been fit to play he would probably have played in the injured Am’s place at outside centre in the Bulls game as he played in that position for the Sharks XV that thumped a Cheetahs XV in a Supersport Challenge match the week before. That would have been interesting, but as it turned out, the injuries to Van Wyk and Mvovo on top of that to Am left the Sharks looking a little lightweight at the back even though it was the game where Andre Esterhuizen returned from suspension.

In short, there wasn’t much continuity, and when the team was announced last week some Sharks fans might have feared the worst.

However, Du Preez is right in saying that his team looked listless, and perhaps the biggest problem was that they didn’t have the point to prove that they did against the Stormers in the last game before the break. Back then there were Sharks players who were bristling at being excluded from the Springbok squad. It will be recalled that Jean-Luc du Preez was not an initial selection – and they wanted to prove themselves against a Stormers team that had more national representation.

Indeed, if you watch a video of the two games one after the other, what might be noticeable is how the Sharks traded places with the Stormers in their most recent game. The Stormers played their Kings Park derby in a flat-footed mood, like a team that had less to prove and less to aim at, which of course is true as they were already qualified for a place in the quarterfinal and many of the players had been selected for the Boks or South Africa A. The Cape side did wake up in the second half, and some of the Boks were yanked from the field by Robbie Fleck, but by then they were 15 points behind.

Against the Bulls it looked like the Sharks had caught the Stormers' lethargy as if it was a contagious disease that can be passed on. The Sharks spoke a lot last week about the need to pick up full points in a quest to finish seventh rather than eighth on the overall log and thus avoid a trip to New Zealand for the quarterfinal. But it was arguably an unrealistic ask, and anyway the Lions might well end up first on the overall log if the Crusaders lose when they visit the Hurricanes in the last weekend of the league phase. In that case the Sharks will be travelling to Johannesburg for their play-off game even if they lose both their remaining fixtures.

So effectively the Sharks, like the Stormers and the Lions, are just marking time at present waiting for the competition to become serious again.

That doesn’t help Du Preez though, because he needs his team to have some kind of momentum by the time the quarterfinal arrives. They lost significant momentum when they were so well-beaten by the Bulls.

“The team performance was unacceptable. We trained really well during the week. We were ready (in terms of preparation), but mentally we just didn’t pitch up,” said Du Preez.

The Sharks have a bye this weekend, as do the Lions, so the coach has time to think about what his approach should be for the final league game against the Lions. Given how his team are hot one week and cold the next, he might think he would be better off if his team misfired against the Lions, particularly if the Lions need a win to secure top spot and thus an Emirates Airline Park return the following week.

Although they lost, the Sharks produced one of their best performances of the season the last time they visited Johannesburg.


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