DURBAN – The Sharks need to toughen up if they are to avoid the mental meltdowns that saw them sink without trace against the robust Jaguares, reckons assistant coach Braam van Straaten.
The former Springbok flyhalf turned defence and kicking coach says the Sharks can no longer use the old excuse of “youth” to justify their lack of mental maturity.
“I think we have a bit of a soft underbelly,” Van Straaten said. “When things are not going our way we don’t respond and fight our way out of it, and that is the challenge we have with this group of players.
“We have been talking about the inconsistency for a long time, and it is typical of younger squads, but we can’t keep on going back to that. As coaches we need to make sure the players are (mentally) okay come game day.”
The fragility of the Sharks was all the more noticeable because the Jaguares at times resembled playground bullies.
“We just didn’t mentally pitch against a Jaguares team that had their tails up after beating the Bulls, and they came at us with a well-thought out plan to put us under pressure.
We didn’t respond to that, and that is the most disappointing thing. We got beaten up at every opportunity: rucks, mauls, defence wherever we went we were not up to it,” Van Straaten said.
The 47-year-old admitted he couldn’t recall a South African Super Rugby battering quite like the 51-17 home defeat on Saturday.
“We can beat around the bush (with excuses) but the bottom line is that we were not good enough. We got beaten in everything. The players are hurting even more than the coaching staff because this is not how we want to play and not what we want to show our fans. They come to watch us perform at the best of our ability and we didn’t do that,” Van Straaten said.
Van Straaten said that on Friday against the Reds, the Sharks players needed to pitch for work with a different attitude.
“We need to be proud enough and streetwise enough to perform even when things are not going our way,” he said. “The players need to take ownership for the loss and the senior players have already done that. I believe that come Friday it will be a different story altogether.”
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There will be many a Sharks fan who will be expecting a change at flyhalf this week, with the in-form Curwin Bosch replacing Robert du Preez, but they are going to be disappointed.
“What is best for the team at this stage is Rob playing so that he can get his confidence back,” Van Straaten said. “At the weekend nobody was good so it would be unfair to drop certain players. We back them as coaches and they must go out and produce the goods.
We have a short week, so we have to get over the Jaguares really quickly and focus on the Reds. They have a very good coach in former All Black Brad Thorne.”