Durban - The style of rugby that balances defence with attack is a style the Sharks players have embraced themselves. Not because they have to, but because they really want to.
One such player is Philip van der Walt who is ‘enjoying’ his first Super Rugby pre-season with the Durbanites, having joined the side ahead of the Currie Cup midway through last year.
‘Enjoying’ is possibly a bad choice of word, given the rigorous and strenuous programme the players endure as they build a platform of skills, ability, style, fitness and conditioning ahead of next year’s competition.
But everyone knows what is necessary, and they all buy into the effort they need to put in.
“So far it’s been great, it has been different with the new coaches, but I think we’ve gone along very well so far and the guys are working really hard,” he told the Sharks’ official website.
One thing the players can’t get away from, and it’s something the new players in particular find the hardest to deal with, is Durban’s relentless and energy-sapping heat and humidity.
“You have to adapt, you try plan around it and sometimes you just have to work your way through it,” he says. “And if you do the hard yards through the worst of the conditions, I believe you’ll be better prepared for playing in those conditions during the season because you’re used to them and the other teams aren’t.”
Although this is his first Super Rugby pre-season programme with the Sharks and he can’t compare differences to previous years, what he is able to identify as a crucial factor is the commitment from everyone.
“There is a lot of passion shown,” he explains, “and for me, that’s important. Not only from the players but also the coaches. And it’s contagious which is good because the pre-season can become long and very tough but you know you’re preparing yourself for something great and to have people helping you, people who are passionate, that makes it so much easier.
“There has been huge attention to detail, especially in terms of improving our attack and defence which is just as important and then in finding that balance which, in this era of the game, is crucial.”
He adds that working with Robert du Preez and Sean Everitt as the attacking coaches has been a new approach. “I’ve found Robert a very approachable coach which is nice. He knows what he wants but he’s also a keen listener, he wants to know what input you have as a player.”
While there will be times when the team turns it on in attack, and others when they adopt a more prudent style - it’s all about playing the conditions, territory and opposition - the ultimate aim is when they have the ball, not to give it away unnecessarily.
“For sure, it’s always nice to get your hands on the ball and to be part of a team that people enjoy watching,” he adds. “We’re all very competitive and when you have to defend to get the ball back, once you get it back, you don’t want to give it back to them easily; that becomes a long day at the office.
“We’re looking forward to the season and I believe that with the players we have, we will be able to play some really good rugby.”