Durban - Can the Sharks do the unimaginable and, in the space of a fortnight, make a second trans-Indian Ocean long-haul flight to win their first-ever Super Rugby title?
Most rugby pundits are saying a resounding “No!”, but Sharks coach John Plumtree is not so sure.
“It hasn’t been done before – all this travel to win a trophy. History is against us... But some day a team will overcome the travel. Records always get broken, and we will have to break a travel record to win this final, but why can’t we do it?”
No team has travelled long-haul to win a play-off match, then travelled the same distance to win again. This is what the Sharks are setting out to do in the final against the Chiefs in Hamilton tomorrow, having beaten the Stormers in Cape Town last weekend, after returning from Brisbane following their victory over the Reds.
Who would have guessed the two teams that were on the losing side in their opening matches of 2012 would go all the way to the final?
The Chiefs are the New Zealand champions despite losing their final two league fixtures. They dug deep in their semi-final and ended up eliminating the most successful team in Super Rugby – the Crusaders. On the other hand, since losing to the Chiefs, the Sharks have won eight of their last nine matches.
They first flew from Durban to Brisbane, where the Reds’ defence of the crown they won last year came to a grinding halt as the Sharks won by 30-17, a score that probably flattered the home side.
Then it was back to Cape Town, where Keegan Daniel and his side beat the two-time SA Conference winners, the Stormers, in a pulsating match by 26-19.
On Sunday, they boarded another flight across the Indian Ocean.
The Chiefs have not lost at home to SA opposition since 2010, when the Stormers and the Bulls won in Hamilton, while the Sharks’ last victory at Waikato Stadium was in 2009 (by 22-19) – the same year in which the Mooloo Men made it to the final.
This year, however, the Chiefs have not been on the losing side in their four matches against SA teams, including an 18-12 win over the Sharks in Durban.
Local fans are feeling upbeat. After home-town boy Chad le Clos won a gold medal by a fingertip in the Olympic swimming this week, there is an atmosphere of “anything is possible”.
Former World Cup-winning Bok coach Jake White believes it is going to be “a hell of a tough ask” for the Sharks.
Good wishes and praise for making the final have been flooding cyberspace from as far afield as Fiji, New Zealand, the US and Zimbabwe and, even though most of these Sharks fans will not be able to watch the final live, there will be throngs of others among the 25 000 crowd who will be wearing the black and white. - The Mercury