The Sharks have to do it all when they square off against seven-time champions the Crusaders in a Vodacom Super Rugby semi-final this weekend.
It’s safe to safe that history is not on the side of the men from Durban, who are still pursuing their maiden Vodacom SupeRugby title after coming close on four occasions. The fact that they’re travelling to Christchurch also counts heavily against them, as only three teams have managed to win a semi-final away from home in the past 11 seasons.
The Sharks can’t be discounted from the outset, though. They are too good for that and have shown throughout the season that they can dish up top-notch rugby. They will also look to take some inspiration from their last encounter with the Crusaders in Christchurch, in May this year.
Despite playing most of the match with only 14 men and even being reduced to 13 men for a 10-minute period, captain Bismarck du Plessis and his charges still managed to sneak a 30-25 win against the New Zealand rugby giants.
But that was then, and this is now. There’s no denying that the Crusaders, with All Black skipper Richie McCaw leading the charge, are phenomenal. They are a team littered with players who lifted the Rugby World Cup in 2011 and they have more than enough players who are no strangers to Vodacom SupeRugby play-off games. They will be a massive force, especially at home.
The Sharks will look to the recipe that has been working well for them the whole season. With the strongest player roster in terms of individual talent at their disposal, it is actually their teamwork that has seen them progress to this stage of the competition.
In the past they were a little at sixes and sevens, but if there’s one thing that Sharks director of rugby Jake White has done right this season, it was getting the men in black to operate as a unit. We got the thoughts of a few players before the big match.
‘Jake wants us all to play our natural game, but he has set some perimeters in a structure that we all understand and bought into,’ says Sharks fullback SP Marais. ‘We’re always looking to attack, but I think the good thing is that we can adapt very quickly and change it around to being more tactical when we need to.’
Springbok flyhalf Pat Lambie, who will start in the number 10 jersey for the Sharks after a long injury layoff, says it’s a privilege to play for the Sharks – especially in important games like this. ‘We all just want to go out there and do our best and play to our fullest potential. If we do that, the rest will take care of itself,’ he says. ‘I think every single player wearing the Sharks jersey understands how incredibly privileged they are to be playing for this team.’
Sharks hard man Jean Deysel will also be in the thick of things against McCaw & Co this weekend and says he’s relishing the challenge. ‘It’s an honour to play for the Sharks and to be giving it a proper go at this stage of the competition against an opponent like the Crusaders. We are all part of something really special at the Sharks and we are grateful for the opportunity to be doing what we love and making the fans proud.’
‘It’s going to be tough, but we are ready,’ he adds. ‘We have an unbelievable camaraderie in the team and we have some of the best players in the world who pull together to make a very strong rugby team. We can’t wait.’
Main image: Marcell Coetzee of the Cell C Sharks on attack during the SupeRugby match between Cell C Sharks and Highlanders at Growthpoint Kings Park on 19 July 2014 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)