Nathan Sharpe a Force colossus

Nathan Sharpe a Force colossus

Nathan Sharpe a Force colossus

Ummm we beat the Lions didn't we?

Sharks 27 Western Force 22

I’ve banged on a bit about Matt Hodgson being the backbone of the Force’s efforts this year but in the face of adversity you cannot fault the commitment, workrate and leadership of Captain Nathan Sharpe.

Hodgo was consistently outstanding at openside when he took over from Bam Pocock due to injury and continues to impress in his other loose forward roles.

However, Sharpie has been a colossus in a modest team that got off to the worst possible start in the Super 14.

There were hopes that the loss of Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Scott Staniforth and others was going to be softened by the recruitment of Andre Pretorius, Brett Sheehan, Matt Dunning, Mark Bartholomeusz and a return to full fitness of Wallaby Cameron Shepherd.

As it turned out, a disastrous run of injuries torpedoed any chance of them grabbing a top half of the table spot. I don’t think there was ever a realistic suggestion that they’d be competitive for a finals place but if all went well maybe a mid-table finish.

Sharpie has blossomed in these difficult circumstances. There has never been any doubts about his leadership credentials but there has been over his form and ability to completely satisfy a lock’s job description i.e. not tight enough for a tight fiver.

Last year it appeared he was on the verge of having his international career terminated due to some of these concerns but was probably saved by the injury toll to some of his competitors.

Sure, he’s always seagulled a bit (maybe he’s wanted to be a loose forward) and appeared to be easily put on the deck by opposition tacklers.

But who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. He’s not seagulling any more, he’s operating a bit closer to the ruck and gets over the gain line more often than not.

If you have a look at the match stats for the 13 Super 14 games, he’s the go-to man with the most forward runs – Matt Hodgson is next. In the Sharks match he carried the ball twice as many times as any other forward and is very effective at getting over the gain line.

Not only that but in the lineout he’s calling himself when the pressure possessions are required to be won, especially in the red zones and he’s definitely not shirking any ruck/maul engagements.

All up, he’s been the most impressive Australian lock in the Super 14 and looks assured of being the No 1 selection when Robbie comes calling.

This game was relatively entertaining and the Force were in it right up until the end.

Wasn’t it great to see such an animated crowd with nothing much at stake. It seemed more like a Pommy soccer crowd with their chanting and singing. Maybe there was a free issue of ‘Cane and Coke’ on the night?

It didn’t take long before the Sharks were on the board with a neat try to winger ‘Upper Mvovo’.

Did the commentators (Joel Stransky and co) give it away or was it just misinformation? “This is John Mitchell’s last game with the Force”. Really? Do they know something we don’t or are they just assuming what we’re assuming?

Brett Sheehan kept the Force in the match with a couple of well directed long range penalties, about 50m each. Likewise Rabbit O’Connor with three shorter range ones before the break.

Kankowski: better than Spies?

Eighthman Ryan Kankowski scored the only try of the half after breaking from an attacking scrum and running over Barty to score under the posts. He was able to do this because the Sharks scrum was dominant – a big push and a screw kept Pocock attached a shade too long to do anything about it.

It was 17-15 to the Shorks at halftime with possession favouring the Force 54% to 46%.

A maul by the home team in the 47th min resulted in a Jacques Botes try, 24-15.

At the 60 min mark, the Force scored their try of the year (even better than the Charles/Inman/Shepherd/ Hodgson effort). JO’C started it behind his own line – Inman carried it on with an extended run – back to JO’C and then they’re hot on attack. 

Fairbrother, Turner, Cross then Cummins to finish it off in the corner. What a corker!

The Force put a lot of pressure on in the final 20 min but made stupid errors, pushed passes and couldn’t get over the line. A final Sharks penalty for 27-22. 

Hodgson and Pocock were again dynamic and Fairbrother did a lot of the work.  O’Connor and Inman were the pick of the backs.

Finishing 13 out of 14 is a poor result in anybody’s terms. A couple of good wins against the Stormers and Crusaders were the positive but they didn’t have the depth to cope with the injury toll, and losing the first six in a row determined their fate.

The commentator’s prediction awaits……  

Wallaby Watch

Put his hand up: Nathan Sharpe. He’s in terrific form for an old bloke and the best Oz lock going around.

Did himself no favoursReferee Pro Legoete. I understand why they have a quota system but it should be tested in the Vodacom and Currie Cups, not the Super 14 where Australian teams are concerned. This guy refereed the match by rote – he had no ‘feel’ for the game and is not up to Super 14 standard.

Bolter watch: Mitch Inman. Same as last week – very promising but some way to go. 

  • Noddy

    I’ve banged on a bit about Matt Hodgson

    what? when? Surely not!

  • Robson

    Nathan Sharpe seems to operate much better with the ball in hand closer to the ruck. He may be too big and slow for the outer reaches and a copybook tackle by a smaller back always puts him away. But closer in his bulk is handy because opposition forwards are coming in at close quarters they tend to tackle higher. This seems to suit Sharpie better and he is able to use his strength and bulk to get across the game line.

    I agree he is the top Oz lock at the moment.

  • Skip

    I reckon Dingo should give Sharpe and Humphries a shot in the early tests. Both have played some excellent rugby and if you’re good enough, you’re young enough. 2nd row looks a bit thin on the shelf to me.

    • Lance Free

      There’s certainly merit in what you say Skip. I think Dean Mumm would be the favourite to be Sharpie’s locking partner but Humphries has certainly put the form on the board, although I can’t realistically see a 34 year old Wallaby debutant but you never know.

      I think Douglas has been the other Oz lock performer in the Super 14 and you can’t write off Chizz, although he hasn’t been consistent. Maybe a dark horse like Mitch Chapman?

      • Joe Blow

        Chisolm and Chapman were terrible in Christchurch. I never could understand how a big unit like Chis lacked any semblance of authority whatsoever in the tight.
        Sharpe and Mumm will probably be picked.
        I wouldn’t mind seeing Byrne or Simmons get a run with Sharpie and have Mumm on the bench.
        Even with all of these injuries Chisolm will not be reuired.

        • Lance Free

          I know what you’re saying about Chizz & co in CHCH – it wasn’t their finest hour; however, the Brumbies didn’t get to No 6 on the ladder and competitive for a finals spot without grunt in the 2nd row. Chizz, Ben Hand and latterly Chapman all stood up at various times but overall lacked consistency across the whole of the tournament. Shame really because that 2nd Wallaby spot is up for grabs.

  • Langthorne

    Thanks for the write up.

    For me the realistic choices are (in this order) Sharpe, Mumm, Douglas, the rest.

  • Great write up Lance. Sharpie for Wallabies Captain.

  • jason

    i have no doubt sharpie would have been wallabies captain if he hadnt deserted the reds…
    he is the form lock of australia and i believe will partner mumm in the 15. humphries next in line then daylight
    i know vickermans gone… but why?
    cant robbie just ask him what it would take to get him back and jus do it?
    we dont have the depth in this position and dont have time for anyone else to estabish themselves considering we want two in each pos before the wc…

  • Homer J

    It shows an amazing lack of 2nd row depth when Samo has to be recycled, he was appauling against Otago. laziest man on the field.

    There aren’t many young locks proving themselves. Simmons did alrioght for the reds but then they had to revert to Samo and Taylor. NSW has Mumm and Douglas followed by anageing caldwell and Dud Roodt.

    The Brumbies don’t have a second row let alone a young one, while the Force pair of Hockings and Wykes are falling well short of their potential.

    2012 could be a very bad year for Wallaby Lineouts. The Rebels have even recycled Al Campbell. Thats how short of stock we are.

    Sharpie is the king currently. Even the South African players rate him highly, and for them to talk about anyone but themselves is a minor miracle.

    • Lindommer

      “An ageing Caldwell”? Fair go, HJ, he’s only 27, that’s not old for a tight five player. Fit and well he’s got another four or five years left in him.

      • Lance Free

        I’ve always had a bit of time for Caldwell. Until he got crook last year he was one of the best locks around. Real old school tight forward. He would have gone on the Spring Tour last October if he had been fit and well.

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Roscoe Tims (aka @LanceFree): A nasty, opinionated little man whose views are indeed narrow with a capital 'N'. Favourite Sport: mungo bashing. Does he ever have anything positive to say?

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