Lukhanyo Am leads Sharks' renaissance
While other franchises are fiddling with locks in the crucial positions, the Sharks have their man
In the bigger scheme of South Africa's Super Rugby travelling troubles, the Sharks' one-from-four record in Australasia could be seen as success.
In reality it isn't, even though the Sharks put up one of the finer South African performances in recent years though not having anything to show for it.
The Hurricanes at times aren't the force they've been in the past three seasons but their digging deep to collect a win that wasn't owed to them with five minutes to go highlighted the importance of closing out a game. On another day a confident Sharks armed with the know-how of back-to-back travelling wins would have known that ball retention would have shut out the hosts.
Good and great teams would have smartly shut the front door with a 37-28 deficit with seven minutes left.
Only three weeks ago the Sharks showed up their bottom-drawer form in their deflating 46-14 loss to the Rebels in Melbourne.
The turnaround has been remarkable, considering how off-colour the Sharks were in Canberra and Melbourne. Perhaps it's also fitting to note how outside centre Lukhanyo Am has embodied the team's renaissance. He created without much reward in Australia and in the depths of those dispiriting defeats he stood head and shoulders above others as the best Sharks player.With a new national team coach, Am has positioned himself perfectly on this tour as a Springbok centre that needs to be taken seriously. The same applies to crackerjack loose-forward Jean-luc du Preez, whose bullying of the Blues and Hurricanes can't go unnoticed. The No7 jersey hasn't been adequately filled and while Super Rugby and test-match rugby are distinctly separate entities, an aggressive but clear-thinking blindside flank is a prerequisite.While the other franchises are fiddling with locks in the crucial positions, the Sharks have their man. There are also the crucial contributions from Mahlatse "Chilliboy" Ralepelle, Lubabalo "Tera" Mtembu and Robert du Preez that leaves no one in any doubt how seriously the Sharks have to be taken. Whether their weakness against Australian sides is a grave concern will only be viewed in the context of the Sharks reaching the play-offs.
While the Sharks are astutely gallant, the context of the storming of what remains of the rancid Eden Park fortress should be viewed as such. They had the beating of the Hurricanes and they couldn't see out the deal. It was a showing that built confidence and character, even though the Sharks tend to be anodyne at home. The accuracy absent in the earlier home games and in Australia was evident.
When the Sharks get their offloads going, they're quite a handful. Questions will be asked of their scrum and if this facet delivers, they may send more than just a shiver down teams' spines. However, they were expected to deliver on their flatter and the fact can't be escaped that they deceived more often than not. Home comforts could paint a different and telling play-off picture.