David Moseley

Why Sharks should win this Saturday

2012-07-24 08:58

David Moseley

There was an insightful article on the New Zealand Herald website yesterday, pointing out why the Sharks are, at present, the best side in the Super Rugby tournament, but also why they won’t win the event.

The gist of the piece was that the Sharks have built up a head of steam, that they boast some sterling stalwarts in key positions and have a crop of younger team members that are playing with the confidence of five-season veterans. But in the end, the travel will get them (if they are to taste final success, they’ll have travelled from Durban to Australia, from Australia to Durban then Cape Town, and then back to New Zealand. Phileas Fogg was more circumspect with his travel itinerary).

The New Zealand writer barely mentioned their upcoming semi-final against the Stormers. To him, the Sharks travelling back to New Zealand to face the Chiefs or the Crusaders was a done deal.

On paper, and statistically, the Stormers are the best side in the competition. So this weekend’s Super Rugby semifinal shouldn’t be the Sharks victory procession that he’s expecting.

But putting my Stormers tinted spectacles aside, and enjoying the Sharks comprehensively dismantle the Reds (I long got over the pathetic provincialism that some South Africans cling to. So yes, I cheered mightily at every Sharks score), I have to say that the Sharks should win this weekend. Here are three reasons why:

1 Steam
They have it. The Stormers don’t. Going into this weekend the Sharks are coming off three great wins, enjoying all the momentum and confidence a hot streak gives. They’ve built up a head of steam and it looks highly unlikely that they’ll run out fuel to fire the furnace in the all South African semi-final.

The Stormers have had the benefit of a weekend off and not having to fly overseas. But the Sharks are coming in hot. If they open fire in the first 20 minutes like they did against the Reds, the Stormers will be on the back foot and under immediate pressure. Fatigue will probably count against the Sharks here, but if they can build a big enough gap, the Stormers won’t be able to close it.

2 Class
Both sides have class. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing the Stormers. Jean de Villiers is a quality player and man. It’s a gross injustice that Juan du Jongh didn’t play for the Boks this year. Siya Kolisi, Deon Fourie, Gio Aplon, Andries Bekker, Eben Etzebeth and so on. All top players.

But the Sharks have the edge. The all Bok front row. Freddie Michalak is playing the rugby of his life (have you ever seen him tackle like he did against the Reds?). Tim Whitehead and Paul Jordaan (if he’s fit) is the most exciting centre pairing since jam and peanut butter. What’s more, the Sharks loose forwards are settled and firing.

Everyone’s talking about Keegan Daniel and Marcell Coetzee, but the standout performer in the last two games has been Ryan Kankowski. He’s faded in the last couple of years, a shadow of the exciting talent he was when he first appeared on the scene. But he seems to have rediscovered his mojo, adding strength and flair to an already formidable back row.

3 The final
Let’s be honest with ourselves here. This is the real Super Rugby final. The best defence of the best Super Rugby team versus the best South African team. An all out, balls to the wall, brutal South African derby for South African and southern hemisphere bragging rights. I can taste the blood already.

To be perfectly blunt, I could give rocks about what happens after this weekend. I support the okes who play in Green and Gold, and so when two sides as expertly staffed as the Sharks and the Stormers take to the field, I get excited. I know I’m in for a treat, and at the end of the day, the Springbok side is going to be overflowing with talent.

Whatever happens in Super Rugby after this Saturday will be anti-climatic. This weekend there will be no cool, calm calculations. This will be all out finals rugby. And anything can happen. In the back of their minds, as soon as they made the play-offs, the Sharks would have know that to win the tournament they’d have to complete a task akin to the 10 Labours of Hercules.

The best they can hope for is to knock the Stormers off their pedestal. And they’ll do everything they can to achieve that goal come Saturday. The Stormers, though, could have the prospect of a home final in the back of their minds. Thinking that far ahead could be their undoing.

Finally final...
All that being said, I don’t think we’re in for any one-way traffic from either side this weekend. I’ve simply laid out why the Sharks should win. I’m not saying they will. Both sides will have to play out of their boots to reach the final.

As rugby fans, we’re in for a Super Saturday. Two brutal South African sides, packed with some of the best local talent we’ve probably seen in a decade, are going to be going at each other in a full-blooded way we’ve probably never seen in this country. Hold on to your beers, sports fans, because the ride could get bumpy.

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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