Final nail in Sharks’ coffin

Sun, 05 May 2013 16:44
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The loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin at the weekend effectively put paid to the Sharks’ Super Rugby title hopes.

The loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin at the weekend effectively put paid to the Sharks’ Super Rugby title hopes.

The match at Forsyth Barr Stadium in many ways characterised the Sharks’ 2013 campaign as a whole.

There were glimpses of the team’s great potential on attack, dogged defence that epitomised the heart and passion of the side, ill-fated injuries and inauspicious calls. The end result? Coming agonisingly short.

It’s hard not to feel for the Sharks. The 2013 season had looked so promising. After falling at the final hurdle last year, the Durban side were earmarked for a watershed 2013.

The three-time Super Rugby bridesmaids had looked destined to finally break their duck, but the perennial underachievers once again find themselves in a precarious position in ninth place on the log, six points adrift the sixth-placed Cheetahs.

However, this time round one cannot ignore the crippling injury plague that has swept through the Sharks camp and robbed them of their top talent.

In excess of 15 players - roughly half of the squad - have fallen victim to the injury curse, which in and of itself, is enough to stifle any franchise’s play-off aspirations.

As a result, the Sharks have roped in Lions players Derick Minnie, JC Janse van Rensburg and Andries Coetzee on loan and blooded the likes of Piet Lindeque, Sean Robinson and Danie Mienie, who while being possible stars of the future, have been fast-tracked prematurely.   

No team, irrespective of their depth, can sustain a serious play-off challenge in a marathon tournament such as Super Rugby amidst such an injury-ravaged season.

Is this an excuse? Far from it - it’s a fact, but to the Sharks’ credit, they have refused to blame their injury situation for their implosion.

For frankly, that’s what it has been - an implosion. A near full strength Sharks side won five of their first six matches, with their solitary defeat coming against the pace-setting Brumbies, to top the South African Conference.

A downward spiral ensued as the casualty list grew and the Sharks slumped to four successive losses, the weekend’s heartbreaking defeat against a previously winless Highlanders outfit the most demoralising of the lot.

They are not out of the play-off picture perse, but it’s difficult to see them bouncing back and going on a similar late surge as that of last year.

Even should they manage to snatch a wildcard spot, it would come as little consolation given the demanding travelling and marginal odds for success that accompany such a placing.      

The Sharks, though, are not complete victims of circumstance. As they have had throughout the season, they had a number of opportunities against the Highlanders that they didn’t take.

It’s a lack of finishing that has become somewhat of a recurring theme and has contributed to a bizarre change of fortunes between the Sharks and the Cheetahs, with the former this season coming up short in close games and the latter being one of the top two South African teams.

With matches against the Western Force next weekend and the Southern Kings in the final round of the regular season to come, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Sharks.

However, in terms of making a run at the title, last Saturday’s loss to the wooden spoonists was the final nail in the coffin.

By Quintin van Jaarsveld

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Kings 15 2 0 13 9