ANALYSIS: Plucky Kings rattle over-confident Sharks
The Southern Kings, a team written off and utterly undermined by a very much over-confident and complacent Cell C Sharks side, enjoyed some soapbox recognition to their naysayers in the South African rugby landscape after just narrowly going down 19-17 at Growthpoint Kings Park on Saturday.
It’s safe to say that in Super Rugby no team can be too underestimated and this follows the Cheetahs scare against the Sunwolves two weekends ago when they won just 38-31 against a side that conceded 83 points against the Hurricanes in the first week.
The Chiefs also endured a scare against the Rebels this past weekend – winning just 27-14, and this after the Rebels lost by 65 points to that same Hurricanes’ outfit and by 38 points to the Blues in their prior two weeks.
Again, this past weekend, major underdogs the Southern Kings, gave the Sharks an outright scare, who appeared in the first three weeks as one of South Africa’s primordial hopefuls. Then appearing over-confident, the Sharks rested some front-line players for the clash, with rookie fly half, Benhard Janse van Rensburg failing dismally to deliver.
The plucky Kings took it to the Durbanites, and what made this more ironic is that they did it on away soil – and just the week before, the Port Elizabeth-based side lost 41-10 to the Stormers at the NMB Stadium in PE.
In response, the Sharks seemingly did not know how to in fact ‘respond’, as the home side kept bashing it up amongst their forwards, only to discover they did not have much of a superior physical dominance over their Port Elizabeth opponents. Instead of playing to their strengths, the Sharks appeared to be rattled for the full 80 minutes and were unable to gain any real headway and be as expansive as they have been.
What set the Sharks aside, specifically in their wins against the Brumbies in Australia and the Waratahs the previous week in Durban; was their blistering ability to send the ball along to the wings – utilizing the outside channel on many occasions and making much advancement as a result.
On Saturday, bullocking Sharks’ inside centre, Andre Esterhuizen saw more carries than both their wings combined with a total of 14. Outside centre, Lukhanyo Am (7) also had more carries than both wings as the centres claimed a combined 21 ball carries throughout. The wings, Odwa Ndugane and Kobus van Wyk had a mere nine carries between them.
Physically, the Sharks’ loose-forwards also took to the party more than what they should have, with eight carries from captain, Tera Mtembu and open-side flanker, Jacques Vermeulen each respectively. Jean-Luc du Preez had the most ball-carries throughout the game, with 15 to his name. Even Sharks’ prop, Thomas du Toit enjoyed 10 carries in the game, but all to no avail.
Not to say that it is a wrongdoing utilizing the forwards or even crash balls from rucks to advance momentum – if done correctly and at the right pace, but unfortunately for the Sharks on Saturday, they did too much of one thing.
The ball carry count says it all, the Sharks either tried to bash it up amongst the forwards in first or second phase ball from the rucks, or the ball rarely saw past the centres, who bashed it up instead – especially by Esterhuizen, who is amongst the biggest backs in the competition. Without changing things up a bit and playing to their successes that resulted from previous weeks, they almost shot themselves in the foot – pointing out that a well-worked game plan is always key.
Through this, fomer Springbok Head Coach Nick Mallet in the post-match SuperSport studios commented:
"Flyhalf Benhard Janse van Rensburg didn’t take any control of this game, so Cobus Reinach was passing to the forwards all the time to run it and smash it up. There was no direction from the No 9 and No 10. Once Michael Claassens and Garth April came on, the Sharks played with more width and also they somehow got control of the scrums later on in the game. The handling of their tight forwards is also exceptional. It’s brilliant and very hard to defend against."
Credit must be given to the Kings however, who did come out motivated and determined against one of the powerhouses of SA rugby and for reading the game well. As a result, they got under the Sharks’ skins and forced mistakes which they capitalized on and scored twice through Makazole Mapimpi and Ruan Lerm in intercept and charge-down tries respectively.
Being on the constant back foot, regardless of alleviating the Sharks’ meek onslaught, the Kings did well to keep their lead throughout the entire match, besides right at the beginning when they were down 3-0 and at the final match result.
The Sharks enjoyed 69% possession to the Kings’ 31% and 61% territory to the Kings’ 39%, including 17% on attack in the Kings’ 22-metre area. The Sharks also amassed 396 metres gained to the Kings’ 214, and had a total 127 ball carries to the Kings’ 62, with five clean breaks to the Kings’ one – yet the difference in score was only two.
With this, the Kings must be credited for, especially with the fact that they also had to play 20 minutes with a man short and despite all this wrought – they managed to take the game to the wire. Subsequently, if the Kings’ Lionel Cronje had converted an almost 50m penalty on the 80th minute, the score would have swayed to the visitors’ favour instead.
At the end of the day though, the result has left nobody happy and satisfied - even for neutral supporters for the prospect that is SA rugby's standards.
Under the circumstances the outcome was telling, and although the match was far from pretty, all credit must be given to the Kings for the grip they maintained and the message they sent out to their other favoured counterparts. This, starting with the Johannesburg-based powerhouse, the Lions, when they take to the field against the Kings this coming weekend at the NMB Stadium. The Lions thrashed the Reds 44-14 at Ellis Park on Saturday.
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