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The final round of Super Rugby at the weekend before Saturday’s play-offs bordered on the bizarre for the Sharks.
Right up until Friday, they believed they were going to Canberra to play the Brumbies in the semi-finals, but by the time the final whistle blew in their match against the Cheetahs on Saturday, they thought they had their work cut out for them. Their belief that they would have to slay the seven-time champions, the Crusaders, in Christchurch to reach the final turned to relief, with the team flying out from Durban yesterday to play the Reds in Brisbane.
To make matters more puzzling, the Sharks were so off-colour in the first half of their match against the Cheetahs that it seemed they didn’t want to play in the semi-finals. At half-time they were down 6-15, but then roared back to win the match 34-15. The Sharks ended up with the slightly easier fixture because in the last match of the weekend the Bulls finished fifth, thanks to a bonus-point try against the Lions.
The Sharks flew out without Bok centre Frans Steyn – competition rules hold that players must have been part of the original squad to qualify for the knock-out stage. Fullback Patrick Lambie and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit injured ankles against the Cheetahs and missed the flight, but this was in part compensated for by the inclusion of fit-again lock Steven Sykes.
In general, the play-off situation looks bright for the SA challenge. Three local teams made it through to the top six, with the Stormers topping the overall standings and the Bulls and Sharks fifth and sixth. The New Zealanders contribute |the second-placed Chiefs and the Crusaders (fourth), while the Reds (third) are the sole Australian |representative.
“I think (Springbok coach) Heyneke Meyer will be pleased when he looks at how the SA teams have fared,” Sharks coach John Plumtree said. “It shows the strength in depth of rugby in this country.”