South Africa's most star studded team is out of the United Rugby Championship after suffering defeat after the hooter thanks to a drop goal from Bulls flyhalf Chris Smith. Whilst the game looked close and a real contest with a final score of 30 - 27, reading between the lines should have fans of the Durban based franchise worried.
The Sharks went into the fixture on the back of two victories against the Bulls in the regular season. Not only that, but they boasted 9 Springboks in the starting line-up, not to mention the players on the bench. With a team sheet and win record like that, why then were the Bulls considered favorites for the fixture? Why would the Sharks be comfortable assuming the underdog tag? Simple home ground advantage can not be enough of a reason to tip the scale in the Bulls favor so drastically.
The answer is a glaringly obvious one. The Sharks may have all the players on paper to do the job, but the Bulls have a coach. Sean Everitt has not managed to draw the best from the squad that he has and this should be of serious concern. Stormers John Dobson had possibly the most difficult task of any SA coach and he has seamlessly turned the Stormers into a rugby powerhouse. Jake White may have a couple more star players than the Stormers, but he has built an exciting side combining youth and experience to mix it with the best too.
Everitt's continued selection of Curwin Bosch at flyhalf is a shocker. I was in attendance at Loftus yesterday and watching a flyhalf distribute the ball to his forwards, who must catch it above their heads, was horrendous to say the least. Your 10 controls the flow of the game and should be able to feed his forwards into space with clean and crisp passes. Watching Ox Nche have to slow to catch a pass above his head every few phases, instead of smashing into his opposing forwards, steals so much of his potency. Jaden Hendrikse was also guilty of the passing horrors on display yesterday, uncharacteristically so.
Then we take a look at the Sharks attack. They boast all of the Boks biggest attacking threats in their backline, with players like Am, Mapimpi, Fassi there should be no difficulty punching holes and finding space. The Sharks structured attacking patterns lack creativity. They barely run dummy lines and just look impotent with ball in hand. This is a coaching issue without a doubt and one I am not sure incomer Niel Powell will easily resolve. It is only in broken play that the Sharks really get things going on the field, that's where you see Fassi running riot and Am with his classy offloads. Funny that this is the least coached aspect of the game and actually comes down to player ability and instinct.
The Sharks sorely missed Grant Williams yesterday and the fact that Boeta Chamberlain was left on the bench for almost 70 minutes is another coaching flaw. Chamberlain is young and needs to be backed to take the side forward. When he had the coaches backing at the end of 2021, he did stellar work out on the field. He proved he'd overcome his kicking woes in the Currie Cup, yet was consigned to a bench role for most of this year. I am baffled by this as Bosch really wasn't playing at a standard to keep anyone out of the starting side.
The Sharks will be further bolstering their ranks ahead of next season with players like Etzebeth, Janse van Rensburg and Vincent Tshituka all making their way down to the coast. None of this will help though if the coaching issues aren't resolved and Chamberlain gets the nod to play 10. Here is hoping the next season of URC rugby bodes better for the Sharks.