Sharks coach Gary Gold said he hoped his team’s courageous effort against the Lions in Johannesburg at the weekend would give them some respite from their critics.
Although the Sharks went down 23-21 to the Lions to suffer their fifth defeat in nine matches, they pushed the in-form home side all the way and, had flyhalf Fred Zeilinga succeeded with an angled, long-range penalty after the hooter, they would have claimed a morale-boosting victory.
“Even our biggest critics want to know that there is some fight in this team and, after the week we’ve had, the guys really put their hands up, stuck in it for the full duration and were in a position to win it at the end. They showed huge character to keep out wave after wave of attack on our own line and it showed that we’re not just going to roll over and think our season is over,” Gold said.
On top of all the disruptions in the last week, the Sharks then had to contend with the late withdrawal of eighthman Ryan Kankowski with a knee injury and yet another yellow card, centre Andre Esterhuizen being sent to the sin bin for a late tackle, which Gold felt was a contentious call.
“The yellow card was unbelievably frustrating and the wrong call. Every decision should be taken on its own merits and I’m still wondering if the tackle was even late, so it definitely shouldn’t have been a yellow card. The sanction for a late tackle is a penalty and there was no malice involved, it wasn’t around the neck or anything,” Gold fumed.
The key period of the game was the 10 minutes either side of half-time when the Lions scored three times to turn a 14-6 deficit into a 25-14 lead, and Gold was at a loss to explain how it happened.
“We’ll have to have a look at that, we let it slip a bit there. We took a knock in confidence with that try just before halftime, but we had a constructive chat in the break, the talk was all positive and intelligent,” Gold said.
“But look at where we are in the competition, we’re just over halfway and we’re just four points behind the conference leaders, and I’m excited that this bunch of players can still get things right. The South African pool is very tight and just four points separates the top four teams.”
With several second-string choices playing their guts out against the Lions, it will be interesting to see who Gold recalls from the contingent of Springbok players that were left out, because this weekend’s game is against the conference-leading Bulls in Durban.