Ruthless Sharks rip apart hapless Lions at a wet Ellis Park
Much like the rain in Johannesburg on Friday, few saw this coming.
It wasn’t so much that the Sharks won this Super Rugby match, it was the manner in which they man handled the team that until recently dominated the South African conference.
The Lions, who were absolutely abject in the first half against the Melbourne Rebels a few weeks ago, managed to deliver a similar performance over the course of the entire match.
The Lions who welcomed back Cyle Brink from long term injury, had hoped the flank would give them some gainline ascendancy but he was part of an unwieldy backrow, if not pack, that got dominated.
As much as you’d be tempted to ask what had happened to the Lions, the question equally worth asking is where have these Sharks been thus far this season?
After bashing away at the Lions in the first 20 minutes without making a dent on the scoreboard, they suddenly and decisively, yanked the match in their favour in the next 20.
The Sharks were like men possessed and were barely recognisable from the side that went down to another home defeat last weekend.
Given that defeat there was always going to be an air of desperation about the way they were going to conduct their business here. Few however expected them to be this incisive as they completely shut out a Lions team that looked as devoid of plan, and perhaps even purpose.
The Lions, again in their Spiderman jerseys failed to rid themselves of the cobwebs that set in when they had a bye last week.
By contrast the Sharks started like they’d just been let out of an aquarium. They went at the Lions at a rate of knots, running hard and mostly straight into the first defenders. Fortunately, initially for the Lions, those defenders largely made solid spot tackles.
The Sharks kept coming but somehow the Lions kept them at bay. Wave after wave of attack was met by stubborn resistance.
After 20 minutes however, the dam wall could take no more.
The outstanding Curwin Bosch, who got a rare start, often darted into space, Tendai Mtawarira on his record 157th appearnace, Andre Esterhuizen and Dan du Preez all ran purposefully into the embrace of the first defender, while Louis Schreuder found men who ran onto the ball hard.
Coenie Oosthuizen too put in a shift while bean pole Hyron Andrews moved around with a bulging chest.
Sure, the Sharks fired and looked voracious from the outset but that does not account for the utter lack of quality in the Lions’ game. Their game was stripped of continuity.
On the rare occasions the Lions had the ball, they were soon dispossessed. Their ball retention was deeply lamentable and it often seemed as if they were introduced to the rugby ball for the first time. Alarmingly, those ham-fisted tendencies manifest itself while the ball was still dry.
With eight or so minutes before the break many in the crowd vacated their seats. They were seeking refuge from the light rain but the Lions could easily have interpreted that as their fans turning their backs.
Fact is, they would have had good cause to view their team as wet blankets.