WITH John Smit’s looming arrival as the new Sharks CEO, the team’s woeful performances could not have come at a worse time for the players and coaching staff.
Smit, who will take the reins on July 1, has been tasked with bringing dwindling supporters back to Kings Park and strengthening the brand. As anyone in professional sport will tell you, the only way to do that is to have a winning team and, after five consecutive losses, the Sharks are anything but winners at the moment.
They are 11th on the overall standings and with five matches remaining have only a slim mathematical chance of reaching the playoffs. The self-proclaimed “team of the 90s” have fallen well short of that moniker this century and have only two Currie Cup titles to show for all the money they have spent and talent they have had at their disposal in the past 13 years.
It is a poor return and while it is true they have been in two Super Rugby finals and consistently been among the top three South African franchises, they have underperformed for more than a decade. This season appeared to mark their best chance of success, with envious squad depth and a settled coaching staff, but things have gone horribly awry in a hurry.
Coach John Plumtree will point to a massive injury list as the reason his side have lost more than half their matches this year, but he is still able to put quality players on the field in any given week.
The Stormers, Chiefs, Crusaders and several other franchises have all suffered heavy injuries but are ahead of the Sharks on the standings.
There appears to be growing discontent in the squad, as No8 Ryan Kankowski’s axing before their current tour underlined. He was “shocked” at his omission and was told by Plumtree “to go do whatever you like”.
It is Plumtree’s right to drop players, but he will also be judged by results and performance, and on both counts the Sharks are falling well short of a pass mark.
Smit dead-batted queries about whether a major overhaul of personnel loomed under his leadership, but he did acknowledge that he had a clear brief from the board to bring success back to Durban.
“Without showing any disrespect to the people at the Sharks, anyone employed in a leadership position like I’ve been has been tasked with ensuring that the team wins everything,” he said from his London home.
“When you have the resources in terms of facilities, finance and players that the Sharks have, then the results probably have not been good enough over the past 13 years.
“Being successful is something that I, the franchise and the brand will strive towards, but I’m not going to arrive on July 1 and say we’re going to win everything right away.
“I’ve first got to understand what the issues are and listen to what people in the organisation are telling me.
“But do I want to win? Of course I do and that’s why the board’s brought me in.
“If I can’t help the Sharks win Super Rugby in particular, then I guess you’ll be talking to another incoming CEO in a few years.”
The Stormers’ playoff hopes, meanwhile, are on life support after the Cape franchise slumped to their sixth loss in 10 matches this season when they went down 21-15 to the Waratahs in Sydney. The only reason the Stormers, with 30 points on the standings, still have an outside chance of making the top six is that just eight points separate them from the last playoff berth.
Southern Kings rugby boss Cheeky Watson is confident his team can avoid a Super Rugby promotion-relegation dogfight against the Lions at the end of the season after his team beat the Highlanders 34-27 on Saturday.
“This win shows the character this team have and which we always knew they had,” he said after the clash in front of 19,000 fans at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Asked whether the victory had given the Kings hope of climbing off the foot of the log and avoiding a bitter promotion dogfight against the Lions at the end of the season, Watson said he remained confident. “We can absolutely avoid that game.
“Nothing is out of the window and we have the possibility of hitting the finishing line. This win over the Highlanders helps us tremendously .”
With George Byron