Sharks aware of potential banana peels
One of the big themes with the Sharks this year appears to revolve around learning from mistakes made in the past – and that could be bad news for the Southern Kings as they approach their first big home Vodacom Super Rugby derby against their coastal rivals.
Overall it could be said that in making the final last year, the Sharks recovered well from their opening two away derby defeats, a situation that ironically is exactly the same one the DHL Stormers face right now. However, the Sharks would have made a much better fist of challenging for the conference title, and thus avoiding the long haul flights for the playoff fixtures, had they not kept dropping matches that they should have one.
There were several games where the Sharks should have done better than they did, with some laxness contributing to defeat in Australia and on the day they played the Hurricanes in Wellington, it was as if the guys from Durban just didn’t pitch. The match that proves the point that most readily springs to mind though was the defeat to the Lions in Johannesburg.
That came just a week after they had outplayed the Stormers in Durban, thus establishing themselves as the form South African team at that stage, and they just needed to beat the Lions, something they should have expected to do, and they would have gone into the June international window break in contention for the conference trophy.
But it didn’t work out that way, and the Sharks coaches and management were left to lament the loss of concentration that undid all the good work of the previous weeks, when they had built up impressive momentum.
With respect to the Kings, Saturday’s game at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is another of those where there might be danger of the Sharks taking their eyes off the ball. If they were to display their old tendency of relaxing in the easier games, this one might be it as the challenge does seem a lesser one than playing their bogey team, the Cheetahs, away and then following up with a game against their arch-rivals, the Stormers.
However, the Sharks have committed themselves to bringing consistency to their campaign this season, being as good as they can be in every game, rather than playing in the spurts that contributed to their failures in recent years.
“The big thing for us is that we have tried to change our culture to make it more player-run, we don’t want to have to think about attitude,” said coach John Plumtree as he turned his attention to the Kings challenge.
“Instead of focusing on attitude, we want to be focusing on preparation for the next context. We know that if we underestimate anyone we can get it because it has happened to us before. Hopefully we’ve grown up enough to understand the mistakes of the past, that every player understands the importance of what we’re trying to achieve.
“We’ve set a goal to win this conference, but it’s easier talking about it and harder actually doing it. You have to remain focused and forget the past and focus on the future. If your feet come off the ground and your heads are in the clouds in this competition, it comes back to bite you. I’ve seen this with us and, in fairness, with other teams too. So we need to regroup, get the medicals done, get our preparation done for the next contest and I don’t want to be needing to talk about things like attitude.”
There is a chance that the Sharks may rotate selections a bit this week as it has to be done sometime and every coach in the competition understands the need for clever management. The Sharks play the high-riding Australian outfit the Brumbies next and they don’t have their first bye until the Easter Weekend.
But if they do take that route, the Sharks won’t be underestimating the Kings, who are a new team in the competition playing their first ever derby game in the competition in front of what is sure to be a passionate crowd.
“We’re expecting it to be pretty patriotic for them as they’ve come off a win and they have a big crowd behind them. The Kings will have enjoyed their first experience and are probably really looking forward to the next one. The warning signs are there. We know they have players who have played Super Rugby and more now who have enjoyed the moments in Super Rugby that they now have had.”