Durban – Achieving what no Sharks team has done before is the prime motivation for coach John Plumtree’s side going into Saturday’s Super Rugby final against the Chiefs, says red-hot wing-centre JP Pietersen.
While this is the fourth final the Sharks will be contesting, they have never won the title, having gone down to the Auckland Blues in 1996, the Brumbies in 2001 and the Bulls in 2007.
“What motivates us is the fact that nobody in our group knows what it is like to hold aloft that trophy,” Pietersen said from his team’s base at Coogee Beach in Sydney, where the Sharks will stay until tomorrow, when they move across to Hamilton, the host city of the final.
“The prospect of moving into unchartered territory motivates everyone, from players to coaching staff. We’re all very excited for Saturday and the prospect of creating history.”
In the Sharks’ way is a Chiefs team that physically crushed the seven-times champions Crusaders last weekend in the first semi-final. “The Chiefs have been the best team in the competition this season,” Pietersen admitted. “They have showed that with their consistency across the whole tournament, and we’re in for a huge encounter.
“They have a great attacking game, they have some fantastic attacking backline players (Sonny Bill Williams), as well as big-game loose forwards (Liam Messam). Then you have a guy like (front-rower) Sona Taumalolo, who has scored nine tries off pick-and-gos close to the line, so they are dangerous all-round.
“They also have a good defensive system and will definitely challenge us when we have ball-in-hand.”
Pietersen said the Sharks would struggle if they did not start well against the Chiefs. “We must keep them at bay in the first 20 minutes. If we want to win this game, we need to be at our best, and everyone needs to bring his ‘A’ game,” said the Springbok No 14.
“It’s going to be very tough, it’s going to be physical, and if we don’t front up and take them on at their own game, we will have a long day. But it’s all about the good start and building from there.”
Pietersen said the Sharks would look to emulate what they achieved against the Stormers last week. “We went into that game with a plan and stuck to our structure, and knew that with knockout rugby, it was the team that took its opportunities that would come out on top. We knew we would have to start well against them to be in the game, and we did. We knew we could not afford to be behind going into the final quarter, and we were not.”
Pietersen scored a wonderful try in that match and he has been having a great season. “I’m happy that my body is in great shape, for just about the first time in my career,” he said. “I’m fully fit and feeling very strong, which adds confidence. You play well and your confidence rises and motivates you further. I’m just happy that I’m performing well for the team.”
Pietersen said that his form was also related to the growth the team had showed since losing to the Lions in the match before the break for the England Test series. “The development of our team came together when the inexperienced guys started to gel with the experienced, and everyone began playing their best rugby,” he reflected.
“The break in June gave us time to refresh and talk about our goals and what we wanted to achieve this season. After the Lions game, we agreed that the challenge was in our hands, and we’ve all stepped up each week and faced that challenge head-on, and we have a massive challenge again this week and everyone is hugely excited about it.”