Sharks ‘have to believe’

2014-07-26 00:00

DIRECTOR of rugby Jake White and his Sharks side face the ultimate test of their Super Rugby credentials when they take on the mighty Crusaders in their semi-final showdown in Christ­church today.

For several weeks now, the former Springbok boss has been campaigning arduously for the underdog, the outsider or the team without the benefit of home advantage in the play-offs.

White has mentioned several times that the organisers of the Southern hemisphere’s premier club competition need to rethink the structure if one of the top two teams from the regular season don’t win the title in the foreseeable future.

And with his side coming third, and in the process losing the right to host a semi-final, the Durban side fall exactly into that category. They are odds-on to lose at the AMI Stadium, given little chance, if any, of upstaging the seven-time champions.

“The Crusaders are a phenomenal team, we’re under no illusions of how good they are and what they’ve achieved. They’ll be a massive force,” White said ahead of the game. “But we have to believe.”

The fact remains that never before have a South African team won a semi-final in New Zealand and only one of our teams have won a last-four game overseas. That was back in the inaugural Super Rugby event in 1996 when a Gary Teichmann-led Sharks overcame the Reds 43-25 in Brisbane.

However, the Sharks have won their last two meetings with the South Island outfit — a 21-17 win in Durban last year as well as a famous 30-25 triumph with 14 men at the very same semi-final 18 600 venue in May.

“We beat them last year in Durban and we beat them this year,” White recalled. “The reality is, this group of players have won home and away against the same batch of [Crusaders’] players.

“We’re confident about the fact if we play properly we can beat anybody anywhere and that’s what we’ve got to believe, otherwise you’re wasting your time.”

White believes the Sharks have done well in recent weeks to go back to what worked for them so well earlier in the season when they were the early pace-setters.

“One would like to believe there’s more to our game [than just the set- piece],” he said. “The Crusaders are probably the most conservative team in New Zealand and they’re consistently the best of the five New Zealand franchises.

“You’ve got to play to the strengths you have. We’ve done that and it will be the same today. We’ll be doing what’s worked for us.

“In knockout rugby, you go back to the things that have been working for you and we’ve done those things consistently well throughout the year.”

White this week named star flyhalf Patrick Lambie in his starting XV for the first time since March and he will be hoping the Springbok ace can inspire them to victory, as he has done in previous games coming back from injury.

Flanker Jean Deysel and lock Stephan Lewies are also back as part of three changes.

The Crusaders, meanwhile, welcome All Blacks captain Richie McCaw back to their starting line-up, which features all their big guns, including Kieran Reid and Dan Carter.

Their coach Todd Blackadder said this week that he was wary of the Sharks’ powerful forward pack, an area that is expected to go a long way towards deciding the outcome.

“We certainly are [cautious about it],” he said. “The last time we played the Sharks, they certainly destroyed us that night as well, and it was certainly a disappointing night, but we’re a different animal at the moment.”

The winner of today’s showdown will meet either the Waratahs or Brumbies in the August 2 final.

The match is telecast on SuperSport 2 from 9 am.

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