Despite their best intentions, the Sharks have failed to produce the sort of performances or results to consistently please their passionate fan base so far this season, and frustrated supporters are understandably wondering, ‘where to from here?’.
This week, chief executive John Smit sat down to provide his honest appraisal amid what has recently been described as a “tsunami of discontent and negativity from the public”.
“There has been a significant amount of criticism, and it’s always going to come in a situation like this. All of the skeletons will be pulled out of the closet when you concede more than 50 points as we did against the Crusaders, and to be fair, even before that we hadn’t set the scene alight,” Smit acknowledged.
“We started the season with a lot of expectation, and we did invest a lot in this year, but there have also been a lot of changes, some foreseen and some not, and some good and some not. It wasn’t always part of the plan to re-negotiate with a new coach at such a late stage last year, but a change was needed and obviously it required a bit of a compromise because (director of rugby) Gary (Gold) could only join us in February.
“All this change I’m sure has had its effect on the players, but the only thing to say is that it’s time now for Gary to be allowed to keep his hand on the wheel and hopefully benefit from some consistency going forward in the years to come.”
It has also turned out to be an extremely challenging season for the Sharks, with player suspensions, injuries to key individuals and mandated rest for Springbok players regularly disrupting proceedings.
Yet having only just passed the halfway stage in the season, Smit emphasised that there was no need for knee-jerk reactions.
“Sometimes there’s nothing easier than pointing fingers and laying blame, but some of the criticism levelled at Gary has been laughable. It's only nine weeks into the campaign and he has taken a lot of heat. Some people will see the red cards and ill-discipline as a by-product of frustration or past problems, but the incredible thing for me is to see how good the team spirit still is under difficult circumstances.
“Against the Lions last weekend the guys displayed some real heart and passion,” the former Bok and Sharks skipper added. “There are so many factors that have led us to this point, but the bottom line is that I truly believe we have the right people to take this franchise forward.”
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Sharks have had to adjust to their fifth change in coaching structures and philosophies in as many seasons, and Smit admitted this had been far from ideal.
“I’d be pig-headed to say the changes haven’t had an effect of some sort… There have been significant changes to the team environment, some of which couldn’t be foreseen. But at what stage do we show confidence in the change? I am very comfortable to do that now. By no means am I happy with the recent results, but we have to trust that we are making good rugby decisions and accept that there will be mistakes along the way.”
This Saturday the Sharks will take on the Bulls at King’s Park, and a victory would keep their hopes alive of reigniting their play-off bid, with the team set to enjoy a much-needed bye next weekend before heading on tour.
“I do believe there is still time to turn things around, the South African conference is so tightly congested,” Smit commented. “It’s ironic that just before the Crusaders game we were at the top of the conference, but now we’re fighting for our survival.
“It’s all about how we respond in this time when so many players are missing. We’ve seen the guys have that fighting spirit and are sticking together, and now we need to see that paired with better accuracy and execution. We have to get back to what the Sharks stand for.”
Smit said he fully understood and shared the frustration of the team’s supporters, but he also called on them to keep the faith.
“It will take time to prove what we are capable of, but I also know that our supporters are loyal and when they see that intent, desire and passion for the jersey, they’ll be right behind us. I can’t be naïve and expect them not to be angry about the current results, and we all know that. Whatever we do to make the game-day experience special is really overshadowed by what happens on the field because that’s why people come here, it’s to watch the Sharks play well and beat teams.”
Original source: Sharks can turn it around - Smit