One can lament the last minute kick by Fred Zeilinga all you like, the opportunity to win was there and unfortunately the young man couldn’t slot the penalty, it happens, it’s one of the things I love about sport in general, the fine line between winning and losing, the minute margins between ecstasy and gloom.
The Lions won fair and square and it was a great game to watch, so I won’t talk anymore about that.
What I do want to touch on is team selection and available players. The Lions has, as far as I know, their first choice squad available. Johan Ackerman really has worked wonders with these guys, the commitment they play with and their enjoyment of the game and team environment is clear for everyone to see. That said, there are probably four players in their line-up that could sneak a Springbok call-up. Warren Whitely, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe and Andries Coetzee. The rest of the guys are playing out of their skin, above themselves if you will. Faf de Klerk was a livewire on Saturday but he’s not the guy you want calling the shots against the All Blacks, the same goes for Akker van der Merwe and Ruan Combrink.
The Sharks were missing the following Springboks, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira, Pieter Steph du Toit, Jean Deysel, Ryan Kankowski, Pat Lambie, Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen and Stephan Lewies. SP Marais was also rested. Of the guys that filled in, Dale Chadwick, Franco Marais and Lourens Adriaanse did well in the front row, the scrums were solid if not spectacular, and the second row the same. I thought Willem Alberts was outstanding on Saturday, the big hits were coming thick and fast and his presence was keenly felt, most emphatically by poor Mark Richards when they collided.
The 9/10 axis was okay, the centres were fairly anonymous. Andre Estherhuysen is growing but not yet the finished article and Waylon Murray, well, let’s just say, in my weekly points allocation table for team effectiveness that I do to assist my fantasy rugby picks, he is the only player in the whole competition who scores zero in terms of what he contributes. Odwa was good at fullback and Lwazi Mvovo scored a great try.
So what is my point? The Sharks are currently fielding a B team. To even get within a penalty kick of winning against a full strength Lions side is pretty good going. The situation isn’t going to change in a hurry. We have at least another 4-6 weeks of inconsistency with regards to player combinations before the suspended and injured players return, which is pretty much the end of the competition if you think about it. It is a great opportunity for the fringe players to stake a claim for a more permanent spot in the team. It is not a great situation for scoring competition points and should be seen as almost an extended away leg in the sense that any bonus point is worth its weight in gold. The good news is that the Sharks still have the Rebels and Reds to come after a fairly horrific few weeks against the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Waratahs away from home. Home derbies can go either way and I suspect will be the difference between mid-table mediocrity and a possible wild card spot, if all the cards fall in the Shark’s favour from here on out.