Nothing but a win for Sharks

2014-07-12 00:00

AFTER nearly five months and 15 gruelling rounds of action, the Sharks will finally conclude the first part of their Super Rugby journey today when they take on the Stormers in Cape Town.

There has been plenty of debate all week around issues like the permutations and the fatigue, amongst other things, but one thing that Sharks director of rugby Jake White and his charges will be gunning for is a minimum of four log points.

With the South African conference secured even before the June international break, there is no doubt that the Durban side have delivered on the first part of what they set out to achieve. The second is the title, although that will be far from their minds at Newlands.

“At the beginning of the year, people said the Stormers and the Sharks had among the two strongest squads in the competition, and that hasn’t changed,” White said ahead of the clash against the 11th placed hosts. “It doesn’t matter what they say about the injuries, they still have a great squad and they always had the worst draw in their eyes.

“We always knew at the back end of the competition they were going to be a threat and that’s exactly what’s happened.”

And so the Stormers have bitten them badly, winning at King’s Park in the final match prior to the break and in the process taking away some of the gloss from their successful overseas tour before the break.

That also jolted some of the Sharks’ momentum, which was further hurt by a loss to the Cheetahs last weekend. They now know that finding the winning formula again is essential ahead of the play-offs.

“If you’re going to go into these play-offs, you need to get some winning momentum and some cohesion going,” White said. “The message is plain and clear, we need to get on an aeroplane and get a result there, whatever way we do it.”

If the Sharks can do that, it will give them a good chance to secure the second place they seek, although the coach has insisted in the build-up that if it does not happen, it will not be the end of the world. He strongly feels that finishing in the top two does not guarantee you the title, despite history almost entirely suggesting otherwise.

Only once in the 18-year history of the competition have a team won the title on foreign soil.

“The permutations are varied. We might have to win with a couple of points, we might have to win with a bonus point, or it could happen that the Highlanders beat the Crusaders and we just need a win,” he says.

“The Stormers have shown in the past that’s it’s difficult to get a bonus point there at the best of times. We’ve got to go there and get a result. We want to make sure we win.”

White this week named possibly his strongest available XV, but did hand a debut to teenage prop Thomas du Toit.

He also moved Frans Steyn back to flyhalf, a position he occupied when the Sharks were flying high at the top of the table a few weeks earlier.

Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis as well as Willem Alberts and Paul Jordaan all returned.

Their opponents, meanwhile, made just one change as Tiaan Liebenberg took over from Deon Fourie at hooker.

Their coach Allister Coetzee added: “This last game of the season is probably the most important one because that is where you leave your last impressions [after a disappointing year].

“We need to focus on what we want out of the game and not what the Sharks want.”

Sharks: SP Marais, S’bura Sithole, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Lwazi Mvovo, Frans Steyn, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Anton Bresler, Stephan Lewies, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Thomas du Toit.

Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Wiehahn Herbst, Lourens Adriaanse, Etienne Oosthuizen, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Fred Zeilinga, Tonderai Chavhanga

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