at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Durban – Sharks coach John Plumtree believes the union has made immense strides in recent years and is hoping they can now kick on with further progress in this season's Super Rugby play-offs.
The coastal side face defending champions, the Reds, in Brisbane on Saturday with a win set to take them one step further than their last campaign which ended at the same playoff stage.
They narrowly missed out on the title in 2007 when they were beaten by the Bulls, before reaching the last four the next season, while domestically they reached three of the last four Currie Cup finals winning two along the way.
“We’ve made the top six and the plus for me is we’ve also developed some really nice juniors,” Plumtree said.
“You look at Paul Jordaan, Piet-Steph (du Toit), Marcell (Coetzee), the way he’s come through this year.
“So I think we’re in better shape than we’ve been in the past and we’re still managing to chase finals.
“I mean three Currie Cup finals in four years and the play-offs again, which is really good news. The stuff up, I guess, is we have to travel, but that’s what we have to do.”
Last year, the Sharks also had to travel at this stage of the competition, although it was arguably the much tougher proposition of Nelson where they were crushed by seven-time winners, the Crusaders.
They looked on course to avoid travelling this season when they went on a four-match winning streak prior to the June international break, but their sequence was ended by a shock loss at the Lions.
“Every side’s got their own stories, people saying ‘you shouldn’t have lost that game and you wouldn’t have been in that position’,” he said.
“Everyone talks about how the Lions game hurt us in terms of travelling, and that’s rightly so, but the Waratahs game was also very frustrating.
“We were up 26-13 or something, dominating and we lost that game. There’s only one side that we really had a hiding from this year and that was the Hurricanes.
“The rest have all been close, we managed to score tries and lost by a few points.
“We were close against the Stormers and Bulls away and we beat both those teams here. We can beat anyone on the day, but we can also lose to anyone.”
The Sharks' progress from sixth-place also meant that three South African teams had made the top six – overall log winners the Stormers, who will host the final if the win their semi-final next week, and the Bulls.
“It’s outstanding,” Plumtree added on the accolade. “That’s a real achievement in itself.
“It just shows you the depth in this country - I’m sure Heyneke Meyer is really pleased about that. All three teams are gaining great experience at the top level, which is excellent.” – Sapa