Michalak wants a winning swansong
Unless he decides to come back again later in his career, Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby final will be Frederic Michalak’s last game for the Sharks -- and he is determined to make it a winning farewell.
Not only that, the experienced Frenchman, who is returning to his home country to play international rugby after the Hamilton game, is convinced that he and his teammates can overcome the odds and the extensive travel they have had to do to make it a momentous finale to his Sharks career by clinching the Super Rugby trophy for the first time.
“I am convinced we can win this week. We have worked really hard to get into the position we are in now after a few setbacks earlier in the campaign and we don’t want to blow it,” said Michalak from the Sharks’ base at Coogee Beach in Sydney where they spent the week before Thursday’s transfer across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand’s north island.
Like the other Sharks players who have been quoted this week, such as wing JP Pietersen, Michalak credits the break the Sharks had before they went into the last two league games for the turnaround in fortunes that have seen them outplay the Bulls, Cheetahs, Reds and Stormers successively to get to Saturday’s final against the Chiefs.
“Everyone came back stronger and with a lot of purpose after the defeat to the Lions, and we’ve taken confidence out of our results. We have worked really hard.”
Of course, the Sharks weren’t bad before the Lions defeat either. They went into that game, which came the week before the international window in June, off five successive victories, including a home win over the high-flying Stormers the week before. It means that in the last 10 games, they have only lost once, and will take a winning habit onto the field with them in Hamilton.
A lot of that success has been down to Michalak’s ability to keep the scoreboard ticking when it is necessary to do so, and his two drop-goals against the Stormers last week played a big role in forcing the defensively astute Stormers to chase the game and thus come out of their comfort zone.
When Michalak arrived back at the Sharks for a second stint last year the franchise was facing a mini-crisis after successive defeats to the Stormers and a big home loss to the Bulls. Initially recruited as a replacement scrumhalf, Michalak did play several games in the No 9 jersey earlier this year, but it has been in the No 10 jersey that he is more used to that he has excelled during the Sharks’ winning run.
“Playing in finals and semifinals are really big games and are about having the maturity to put points on the board when the opportunities arise. I accept the responsibility to take those opportunities and that is why you saw me kicking those drop-goals against the Stormers. We knew we had to had to score points every time we were within striking distance, and we achieved that.”
The need to score when in position to do so may be even greater against the Chiefs as the New Zealanders have a far more potent attacking game than the defensively orientated Stormers. And with there being uncertainty over who the Sharks will field at No 12 against the Chiefs and big Sonny Bill Williams, there may be extra pressure on Michalak’s not always perfect defensive game this week.
What you can’t fault though is Michalak’s commitment, and that should motivate him to stand up to whatever the Chiefs throw at him.
“I have really enjoyed my time with the Sharks and now that we are in the final I will do everything in my power to help them win it,” said the man who has been capped 47 times for France and looks set to build on that later this year.