The Natal Sharks’ indifferent start to the 2018 Super Rugby season continued as they slumped to a 24-17 loss to the Brumbies at GIO Stadium. The Brumbies, like the Sharks, had only won against the Sunwolves going into this game and had been beaten by both the Rebels and the Reds. This therefore looked like a good place for potential points for Rob du Preez Snr’s men, with the Sharks having won 27-22 at the same stadium in Round 2 last year.
The Sharks were hit by the late withdrawal of Beast Mtawarira, the loosehead who seems to have stepped up a major level in the Natal jersey this season, necessitating the promotion of Juan Schoeman to No.1 and Mzamo Majola to the bench.
The Brumbies scored the only try of the first half through Lausii Taliauli. While Curwin Bosch showed some improvement in his one on one tackling in this game, his defence for the Taliauli is not something he will rememember very fondly. Another piece of non existent tackling from Mapimpi saw Speight score early in the second half, and while the Sharks hit back through tries to Du Toit and Bosch, they could only take a losing bonus point home.
The Sharks were their own worst enemies, failing to make their opportunities count. Their ball handling was atrocious and decision making was poor- giving away pressure releasing penalties in the opposition 22, messing up their own scrums and lineouts in crucial attacking positions– the list goes on and on. The Brumbies lost 2 players to the sin bin, and the Sharks were only able to score seven points in those 20 minutes, and that too after several attempts at the rolling maul.
The scrum, with Thomas du Toit at 3 experiment continuing, was penalised a number of times in the first half by Glen Jackson. The pack seemed ruderless, with the loose trio in particular, looking CC quality at best. Tera Mtembu was guilty of some errors at crucial points of the game, and the difference Jean-Luc du Preez made when he came on to the field was enormous. The Sharks replacement front row (Majola, Ralepelle and Meyer) didn’t enjoy much success either, and were on the wrong side of Jackson’s whistle.
The Brumbies weren’t very flash either, but they got the job done. They had the worst kicking percentage in Super Rugby this year among the Australian sides going into this game, but Wharenui Hawera had a stellar evening with the boot, nailing five of his six kicks to keep the home side ahead.
The Sharks’ only real piece of good play came for Bosch’s late try, the only time a backline move seemed to come off, and it gave them one bonus point. Also, worryingly for them, they lost Andre Esterhuizen to injury in the second half, and RdP Snr. will be hoping that his influential inside centre isn’t out for too long.
Ratings: The loosies had a bad day, with no one in the pack, except for Jean-Luc really playing at the level they should’ve been. JL is a Springbok, and the difference between his carrying, and that of his teammates, was quite something. The Sharks seem to be missing the intimidating presence of Etienne Oosthuizen at 4. A disappointing evening for the No.8 Mtembu, who hasn’t made the most of his opportunities in the last two games. Most of the team today could probably be summed up in three words- clumsy, lethargic and lacking passion. At this rate, it will be a long Super Rugby season.