Johannesburg - The Sharks will have arrived in Buenos Aires on Tuesday knowing that their match against the Jaguares on Friday will be a litmus test of the team’s chances of backing up their coach’s confidence that they are a champion unit in the making.
“I said after the loss to the Bulls that this is a great team in the making, one that has the makings of winning a championship. Whether it is this year or next year, it is going to come,” said Sharks mentor Robert du Preez after his team’s 28-24 win over the Chiefs, according to SuperSport.com website.
Although Du Preez said he wasn’t happy with the finishing against the Chiefs, something that allowed the depleted but extremely physical visitors to remain competitive longer than they should have, the coach had a good reason for his optimism. Although the Sharks have been horribly inconsistent this year, the one thing they have got right is their play against the New Zealand teams.
They did not play against the Crusaders, who are the reigning competition champions, but they beat the Blues away, should have beaten the Hurricanes away, and won both their home games against Highlanders and Chiefs fairly comfortably. It was only a late consolation bonus point grabbing try that enabled the Chiefs to finish within a score of them.
That means that the Sharks are the one South African team that can travel to New Zealand with any kind of confidence should they win their way into the play-offs, a prospect that was strengthened this past weekend when the Durbanites won and the Stormers and Bulls were beaten by the Sunwolves and Jaguares respectively.
“We’d like to beat the Aussie teams too. We’d like to beat all the teams! But this is great as it will give us great confidence should we get to play a New Zealand team in the play-offs,” said Du Preez.
However, to get there the Sharks still have some tricky obstacles to overcome, with an away trip to Cape Town and tough home clashes with the Lions and Jaguares to look forward to after the June international break. Given the form the Jaguares are in though, this week’s clash could be their toughest and they can make a big statement by beating a team that is at last starting to perform like the international combination it is.
“The Jaguares are a full blown international team, so this is a test team we will be facing,” said Du Preez. “They have sorted out their problems with discipline and have been playing some great rugby.”
The Jaguares at times approached the level of sublime when they posted more than 50 points against the Bulls last weekend, but the Sharks will have the confidence of having won in Buenos Aires last season. That was a close game that the Sharks showed great composure to win, and few who saw it will forget the game-breaking try that featured props Coenie Oosthuizen (now injured) and Thomas du Toit running and handling like they were centres.
That was a win that should really have kick-started the Sharks’ challenge, but they went on after that to turn in some mediocre performances, with the nadir possibly being their defeat to the Kings in Port Elizabeth. This season has been similar, with lots of bad interspersed with the good, though there has been some semblance of momentum
The Sharks though need to find and show some consistency if Du Preez’s claims that they are a championship team in the making are to have any validity. Buenos Aires, where based on the Jaguares’ current form they maybe shouldn’t be expected to win, will be a good place to start.