Sharks can do the impossible – Jean
They may have only finished sixth on the overall log after an inconsistent league season, but Stormers Jean de Villiers reckons the Sharks will be deserved champions if somehow they overcome the travel obstacles to win the Super Rugby trophy.
The Springbok and Stormers captain was asked a lot of questions at a press conference at Newlands on how he thought all the travel will impact on the Sharks, who flew to Australia only last week and are now back in South Africa preparing for the semifinal in Cape Town on Saturday. In a way they were pointless questions because De Villiers is hardly going to come out and say that the Sharks have no chance, thus motivating them.
But he left little doubt that he thought that going all the way, which would mean them following up their Brisbane win over the Reds with another over the Stormers on Saturday and then in New Zealand the following week, would be an enormous challenge for Keegan Daniel’s team.
“This is what I will say--– if the Sharks can beat us and then go to New Zealand to play the Crusaders or the Chiefs, and then win there too, then it will be the greatest achievement and the greatest performance in the history of the Super Rugby competition,” said De Villiers.
But if that sounds as if he was writing off the chances of the Sharks think again, for he made a telling addition to his comment.
“The unfortunate thing (for us) is that they are quite capable of doing it,” he said.
De Villiers clearly does believe travel will be a factor, which should go without saying, but he warned the Cape media and public that the fact the Sharks are in a semifinal will mitigate against the drawbacks of travel fatigue.
“The thing about this stage of the season is that you enter a different space mentally. When you get to this stage, the motivation is there, you know it is the defining moment of the season, and an edge is introduced.
It enables you to overcome the things that might normally stop you from playing well.”
De Villiers was in a way echoing the words of former Springbok captain John Smit when he spoke ahead of the series against the British and Irish Lions in 2009, when he said that the fact that it was a Lions tour would mean the British and Irish players would overcome the end of season fatigue that often trips up UK sides when they tour the southern hemisphere at the end of the northern season.
But travel fatigue may be a different thing, and it may be that the Stormers are working at putting the potential of the Sharks being short of a gallop out of their minds.
“The thing about the Sharks is that they are big game players, and we have seen that time and again. They are a quality side who are the inform team in the competition and they beat the reigning champions,” said Stormers captain Allister Coetzee.
What the Stormers are not doing is making the same mistake as last year, where perhaps they underestimated the Crusaders because of the travel factor.
“Last year we took the whole week off and only got together to start the build-up to the semifinal on the Monday before the game,” recalled De Villiers.
“This year have done it differently. We got together again on the Thursday after the last league match, and have worked hard at keeping ourselves sharp. We feel better mentally prepared this year than last season. I feel we are in a good space for this game.”
The Sharks are also departing from their usual practice by coming down to Cape Town a day earlier than they would normally. Coetzee said it was irrelevant, a “small thing”, but it is interesting to note that they did something similar before their season defining clash with the Bulls in the last match of the league stage last year. They scored an upset win over the Bulls at Loftus when the hosts started as clear favourites.