Jack O’Donoghue tames Werner Kok. (Photo by Seb Daly/Gallo Images)
The Sharks completed a chastening first weekend in the new United Rugby Championship (URC) for South Africa as they slumped to a 17-42 defeat at the hands of Munster in Limerick on Saturday night.
In a game that, in general, failed to reach any significant heights, the Durbanites will have to do some introspection following a performance riddled with poor discipline and largely barren attacking play.
The eventual scoreline – on paper an “improvement” on the Bulls’ 3-31 loss to Leinster earlier in the evening – was indeed flattering.
While it would be more than justified to argue that the Sharks will learn a substantial number of lessons from the outing, they were probaby inferior to all their local counterparts in terms of creating play in this opening round of fixtures before finding spurts of inspiration in the final quarter.
For 57 minutes, Munster – coached by former Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan – had controlled proceedings with a typically workmanlike performance.
They were handed a perfect start on a platter as early as the 5th minute when Sharks pivot Boeta Chamberlain attempted a risky Sonny Bill Williams reverse off-load, which only managed to hit wing Yaw Penxe’s arm and allowed direct opponent Simon Zebo to run in from about 40 meters.
The game then drifted as both teams struggled to gain some form of ascendancy.
Munster had their troubles at the breakdown on attack in terms of adapting to tweaked law interpretations, while the Sharks had an iffy time at the line-outs and couldn’t keep any of their scavengers at ruck-time on their feet.
Bok prop Thomas du Toit paid the price in that regard after being shown a yellow card in the 29th minute, an indiscretion that gave the Irish side their foothold.
Carbery converted a penalty before his halfback partner, Craig Casey, exposed the Sharks’ one-man disadvantage on defence at a scrum to exploit the blindside.
By the time Du Toit returned, Munster had found some rhythm and went into half-time on the back of a first try for flanker Gavin Coombes, who was on hand to score from close range after a period of sustained attack.
He made the game safe for the hosts 10 minutes after the turnaround with another muscular effort, which led to another lull in proceedings.
Unable to make any attacking inroads despite a nice, weaving run from the diminutive winger Thaakir Abrahams, the Sharks’ effort flickered to life as Chamberlain intercepted a loopy, ambitious pass from his opposite number.
A more respectable scoreline looked in the offing when Penxe showed he has pace to burn following a fine off-load from replacement back Jeremy Ward on the counter, but the Sharks bafflingly slacked off again, allowing Munster to inflate their points haul with two late tries by Zebo and former Kings star Chris Cloete.
Munster – (20) 42
Tries: Gavin Coombes (2), Simon Zebo (2), Craig Casey, Chris Cloete
Conversions: Joey Carbery (2), Mike Haley
Penalties: Carbery, Haley
Sharks – (3) 17
Tries: Boeta Chamberlain, Yaw Penxe
Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2)