Can Sharks break the mould?

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iol spt july21 Sharks Gallo Images The Sharks want to become the first overseas team to win the Super Rugby competition in its 18-year existence. Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images

Breaking the mould, reinventing the wheel, achieving what no team has done before… that is the mindset the Sharks packed into their suitcases when they left Durban for Christchurch yesterday, for Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusaders.

The Sharks have, of course, beaten the Crusaders on their home turf this year, but White is alluding to the fact that no overseas team has ever won a final in the 18-year history of Super Rugby, and he reckons there is no time like the present to arrest the long-standing trend.

“We have to be positive about going over there and winning two games to get the title, otherwise what is the point of this competition?” White said after his team had won a nail-biting quarter-final match against the Highlanders at the weekend.

“We can’t just carry on and on with the teams that finish No 1 and No 2 on the log playing each other in their backyard for the title, and when there is the case of an overseas team travelling, they have little chance because they are exhausted (it will take the Sharks 36 hours to get to Christchurch).”

White is adamant that it is time for change and that the Sharks are the team to do it.

“There has to come a time when the third or fourth-placed team overcomes travel to beat the home side. Otherwise what is the point?” White asked.

“Super Rugby might as well become redundant after the pool stages.”

It is typically positive talk from the Springbok 2007 World Cup winning coach, and he insists that knockout rugby is going to produce big upsets sooner rather than later.

“We came within minutes (and four points) of losing to a Highlanders team that we annihilated up front, but battled to contain when they had the ball from broken play. That is knockout rugby,” White said.

“I was proud of the boys. Other teams might have lost from that position (when the Kiwis were leading by two points with five minutes to go),” he said. “I think we played some of our best rugby in those last 20 minutes.

“Over the last fortnight we have had a great win over the Stormers and then had to fight for our lives to beat the Highlanders, and that is great momentum to take into the semi-finals. Ideally, you would want a comfortable win, but at this stage it often doesn’t happen that way. It’s a great lesson in how tough the knockout stage can be.”

The Sharks are en route to a resort just outside Christchurch, where they stayed earlier this year before beating the home side. They have a training field at the resort.

“It would be disrespectful not to get to New Zealand straight away – I’m old school in that way,” White said.

“I feel that when you play a New Zealand side, you must prepare in rugby country. We have some great memories from that part of the world. A couple of months ago we got an incredible victory there.

“We’ll travel there as soon as possible and, although it is rare to win after such a long journey, we’re just going to go and enjoy it, absorb the atmosphere and have fun this week.”

White said the Highlanders’ last-gasp defeat against the odds showed what can be achieved if a team has belief.

“The Highlanders knew they could beat us because they had done it just a few months ago. We are in exactly the same position with the Crusaders,” he said.

“We know if we play well enough, we can beat them because we’ve done it before. We just have to get to Christchurch, get fresh and prepare well. It’s knockout rugby and it’s a whole new game. It’s meaningless what’s happened before and how many All Blacks they have, and what the history books say.

“Otherwise we might as well just stay here! I’m a big believer that this group of players can beat anybody, and we’ve beaten both the Crusaders and Waratahs (the teams that finished No 1 and 2 on the log) already this season.” - The Mercury

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