Super Rugby 2018
Sharks vs Sunwolves
Final Score: Sharks 50 – Sunwolves 22
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
Television match official: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
I sat listening to those nodding heads in the studio busy with their overly-long, overly-hyped pre-match warmup to this game. I have long avoided these warm-up discussions broadcast from the studio, where ex-players and some broadcasters try their level best to tell us that a game between the likes of the Sunwolves and anybody else is likely to be worth watching.
I realise that they are paid to be excited about the “product” they are selling, but it all gets a bit weird when they are asked to make a prediction about a game such as this one. Anyone with half a mind and just a little knowledge of the game of rugby would know that the Sunwolves do not travel well. They have never won away from home and are not likely to, especially now that the Kings have left the tournament and the Rebels have bought half the Force!
To then hear professional commentators suggesting that the game would be won by the Sharks, by somewhere between 9 and 14 points is somewhat ludicrous. In my preview I suggested at least a 25 point spread. Afterwards I thought of editing my article and suggesting 35 points or more. I am glad I did not, my 25 point spread was pretty close to the eventual 28 point difference between the two scores.
It should have been a much bigger difference. That consolation try by Tupou in the 78th minute did nothing towards adding to respectability in the score-line, but it did reduce the points spread between the two sides.
In the final analysis, the Sharks scored 7 tries, and the Sunwolves 3. The Sharks win their first game of the 2018 season, with a bonus point too!
They should not be overly excited by their win, there were plenty of flaws in this performance.
The very fact that the Sunwolves managed to score three tries is very worrying. The Sharks missed 23 tackles in this game! An 89% tackle success rate is poor against one of the minnows in the competition. (In contrast, the Sunwolves had a 83% success rate!) The Sharks were also forced to make many more tackles than the Sunwolves, 179 to 122.
Most frightening for the fans was the ease with which the Sharks’ clearance kicks were charged down. Four charge-downs in 24 minutes must be something of a Super Rugby record……..
Possession went to the Sunwolves by 54% to 46%, and they managed to turn the Sharks over in the rucks 4 times. In contrast the Sharks managed just 1 ruck turnover.
The Sunwolves carried the ball 129 times and made 883 meters with the ball in hand. The Sharks carried the ball just 108 times, making 702 meters with the ball in the hand. The Sunwolves made 6,8 meters with the ball in hand on average. The Sharks made 6,5 meters.
Handling errors were pretty equal, 16 by the sharks, 19 by the Sunwolves.
The Sharks kicked the ball 22 times, the Sunwolves a weekend low of 13.
The Sunwolves interplay with the ball was rather good. They threw 176 passes, of which 161 found their intended target, thus 91% of passes going to hand. The Sharks threw 127 passes, and 102 found their target, just 80% of the passes going to hand. Whilst overall handling was much better, these passes to no one in particular will be worrying!
When you have won a game as comfortably as the Sharks did against the Sunwolves, it is often very easy to miss the blemishes. The poor passing, the handling errors, the tackling issues, the lack of dominance over the ball.
These are things which the Sharks will need to work on in the days that lie ahead. They travel overseas and start with a game against the Brumbies.
Pleasing for any Sharks supporter, those few that turned up at the stadium and the couple or three that watched the game on television, is the improved disciplines shown by the Sharks. They did dominate the gain-line, and they did offer some very physical presence at the breakdown, even if there were still too many soft moment.
And the soft moments were also there as the Sharks butchered scoring opportunities.
They can thank the Sunwolves for having no idea how to take play back in-field when they were hemmed against the touchline. So many of the Sunwolves’ attacks petered out as they ran out of space and had no back-up players to take the ball back inside and across the field.
Akker Van der Merwe produced one of his bustling games which brought him many fans back at the Lions. He is a rubber ball of energy when the mood takes him, and on Saturday it did! He bumped off defenders, smashed ball carriers in the tackle, and was generally a nuisance all over the field. His lineout work was good too.
Rob Du Preez again reinforced his reputation for steadiness under all manner of pressure, attacking or defending. Just those slow clearance kicks are a worry. Curwin Bosch is another who needs to work on his clearances, he offers the charge-down opportunity every time he lines up a clearance or tactical kick.
Andre Esterhuizen worried me in the 12 jersey. He showed no flair, no innovation, and very little clear thinking. It was all Muscle-Monkey battering ram stuff. He will need to do more against cleverer teams!
In the end, the Sharks and their long suffering supporters will be satisfied. A win is a win, and this was a big win. That will give them some confidence when they trot out to meet the Brumbies next week.
Tries: Mapimpi 2, Van der Merwe, Mtembu, Vermeulen, Nkosi, Wright
Cons: Du Preez 5, Bosch
Pen: Du Preez
Tries: Lemeki, Nagare, Tupou
Cons: Matsushima, Nakamura
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (c), 3 John-Hubert Meyer, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Lomano Lemeki, 13 Sione Teaupa, 12 Michael Little, 11 William Tupou, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Craig Millar
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Shintaro Ishihara, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Wimpie van der Valt, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Ryoto Nakamura, 23 Robbie Robinson