Durban – The unbeaten Sharks face the Free State Cheetahs in round three of the Currie Cup on Saturday and coach Brad Macleod-Henderson is targeting further improvements when they run out at Kings Park in Durban.
The wins over Griquas and the Pumas have been less than comfortable as the defending champions squeaked through 31-24 in Kimberley followed by a 34-17 win against the Mpumalanga side on the east coast last weekend.
“It's the third week of the competition and of us as a team together,” Macleod-Henderson said.
“I was happy with our performance last week, it was better than the first week and if we can improve on last week's performance this Saturday, we'll be very happy.
“If we keep on that trajectory, the sky is the limit. We know it's going to be a tough game, we've had a nice week's training and we're looking forward to it.”
Their latest opponents, the Cheetahs, have not had the best of times so far.
They were stunned 28-21 by the Pumas in Nelspruit and edged out Griquas 34-27 in Bloemfontein.
However, they still pose a formidable threat, one the Sharks are cautious about.
“Sarel Pretorius is a world-class scrumhalf,” Macleod-Henderson said.
“He's very quick, looks to break, so we'll have to make sure we keep an eye on him.
“There is a lot of continuity amongst their backs, most have played Super Rugby and did this year, so we'll need to make sure we have them covered.
“Up front, they have a good maul, they back themselves there so we'll need to make sure that we cover that area.”
Macleod-Henderson, who made three changes to his starting XV, including a first start for former England prop Matt Stevens, insisted that this was a different Sharks team compared to the one that reached the Super Rugby semi-finals.
Under director of rugby Jake White, the Durban side came under criticism for their kick-minded game and lack of scoring tries.
“When we met before the Griquas game, we sat down and chatted about how we were going to play and how we wanted to play,” he said.
“This team is different to the Super Rugby team we had and we are trying to play towards our team's strengths.
“We don't want to put shackles on the guys, if there are opportunities, we want them to be able to take them, and recognise those opportunities.”
Apart from Stevens, the other changes were also to the tight five with Dale Chadwick and Francois Kleinhans in for Thomas du Toit and JC Astle.
The Cheetahs too have made changes as injuries to Luan de Bruin, Boom Prinsloo and Elgar Watts paved the way for Rudolph Botha, Neill Claassen and Willie du Plessis to play.
“We have been affected by a couple of injuries, but we believe we have adequate depth and that we are as strong as possible for the game against the Sharks,” said Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan.
“We know it is going to be tough and we have prepared for it likewise.” – Sapa