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In the aftermath of their defeat to the Chiefs towards the end of April, the Sharks sat down together and determinedly decided to focus all of their efforts on enjoying a successful stretch of five matches before the June international window.
The loss to the Chiefs was the Sharks’ fifth of what had been a frustrating Super Rugby season so far, and left the Durban side down in ninth spot on the log, and 10 points behind the second-placed Bulls in the South African conference.
Mercifully, their bye followed that result, though, and allowed for some much-needed rest, recovery and introspection.
Upon their return to action, coach John Plumtree made a number of proactive changes to the team, while influential forwards such as “Beast” Mtawarira and Ryan Kankowski made their comeback from injury.
A morale-boosting victory over the Highlanders followed, and was then backed up with all-important bonus-points wins over the Force and most recently Cheetahs, with the Sharks having begun to rediscover their form and winning momentum.
Although three successive victories has brought the Sharks right back into play-off contention, Saturday’s encounter against the log-leading Stormers at King’s Park is really going to put their championship credentials to the test.
Plumtree admitted this was the “big one”.
“At the beginning of the month we spoke about having a really good run of five matches and now we’ve won three of those, with two to go before we can have a bit of a break. The Stormers is the big one this weekend and it will be hyped up a lot, so it’s an exciting one for the boys. I’m sure most people will expect the Stormers to beat us and that will add more flavour to it in terms of physicality.
“We are picking up momentum at the right time and that’s fantastic. Everyone is talking about that, but at the end of the day, each challenge is different and we have to make sure we remain focused on each week. We knew at some stage we were going to come right, and while there have been signs of that, the important thing for us is to keep it going.”
With this in mind, Plumtree said they knew they were in store for a massive challenge on Saturday.
“We’re coming across a different animal this week; the Stormers are top of the table and have won 10 out of 11 games. Their confidence will be right up and when you’re winning and are on a roll like that, you can really focus on the details of your performances. They’re a team that certainly knows how to win and will be extremely tough to beat.”
And what about the million dollar question: how do you unlock the Stormers’ Fort Knox defence?
“You either go around it, through it or over it. We’ll have to try and do all of that,” Plumtree answered with a smile.