Hamilton - Sharks coach Robert du Preez says that had he been offered six long points at this juncture of his team’s overseas tour ahead of the trip he would happily have settled for that, but both he and senior player Philip van der Walt agree the job is not finished.
Although the Crusaders fought back to secure a draw when the Sharks were in a winning position in Christchurch last weekend, the Sharks are unbeaten after two matches in Australasia. They beat the Waratahs in Sydney in their first game, the first time they had got the better of the Australian franchise on their home field since 2000.
There are only three matches on this tour as opposed to the usual four (the Sharks and Lions played four last season with the Stormers and Bulls playing three, and this year that is reversed), flank Van der Walt believes it will still be a great achievement to finish the tour unbeaten by beating the Chiefs in their final match in Hamilton on Saturday.
“It would be massive if we could beat the Chiefs because I don’t think any of us have completed an unbeaten tour before,” said Van der Walt from the south island resort of Queenstown where the Sharks are this week mixing their training with some much needed off-field fun to refresh minds and bodies.
“When you add the fact that we have tough opposition on this tour in the Waratahs, Crusaders and Chiefs, then it would add up to something very special. If we could win this next game and come away with 10 points, that would be great.”
Conversely, the 28-year-old knows that a defeat will undo much of the ground made in the first two games.
“A lot of the emotional needs and success of the tour depends on this game because even though we beat the Waratahs and drew with the Crusaders, if we lose against the Chiefs it would take the joy away, so this game is hugely important to us.”
The Sharks have become notorious for the slumps that almost inevitably follow their best performances, and the Hamilton game is of the sort where you’d almost anticipate the Sharks falling back into their old habit. They tend to reserve their best performances for when it is least expected, and given the Chiefs’ poor form this season you’d expect the Sharks to win this one.
However, coach Du Preez has seen the sequence play itself out enough to be extra vigilant this week.
“This week’s game is massive for us, we know what is at stake and the boys have a lot of belief now,” said Du Preez.
“We have too much respect for the Chiefs to take them lightly. They are one of the teams who have scored the most points in the competition so we know what they can do from an attack point of view but just lately they have brought their defence out. It will be a tough battle but we are prepared for that battle.”
Du Preez added that the effort put into the defensive effort against the Crusaders showed the character and spirit that existed within the team, something that has been questioned lately because of the way the Sharks have floundered in some home games where they appeared to be flat.
“The players have been immense. I have always from the word go that we have a great plan from an attack and defence point of view. Against the Crusaders we showed how much we care for each other, and that is the bottom line,” said the coach.
“We know how tough it is to tour and how tough this competition is. To beat the Waratahs fo the first time in 19 years away from home was a great feat. We are very pleased with where we are.”
The job isn’t finished though, and Van der Walt thinks it’s imperative that the Sharks apply early pressure and get ahead.
“We have identified that when teams have applied early pressure it is possible to get ahead early, and because their game is based so heavily on off-loading they will hopefully make a lot of errors if they are chasing the game,” said Van der Walt.
The Chiefs have already lost to one South African team, the Lions, at home this season, but at the same time they hammered the South African log leaders, the Bulls, at Loftus two months ago. That sums up the Chiefs, they are hot and cold, and you’d be able to say the same about the Sharks, who have done well on tour yet have four home defeats in six starts on their record.
Read this story on SuperSport.com