The Sharks versus the Bulls at the business end of Super Rugby… it somehow always comes down to this clash to determine the fate of the Durbanites in the competition, and with the gun squarely pointed at the forehead of the Sharks, as John Plumtree put it earlier in the week, the home side might just prevail against a visiting Bulls team that needs the win marginally less.
How it came down to this for the Sharks is both too painful and too irrelevant right now for them to contemplate. The only thing they can do is try to salvage the situation, even if only for a week, by beating the Bulls and staying alive, because one thing is cast in stone – if they lose tonight they are gone, gone, gone. They will be history – like the Dead Sea Scrolls, like Ancient Rome, like the pyramids.
This is no time to consider how they went missing in action against the Lions in their last outing, resulting in a cataclysmic defeat by the team coming stone last in Super Rugby, a team that no longer even has a coach.
It’s all water under the bridge and now, as Plumtree correctly points out, it is about the shotgun pointed at the collective forehead, and it is the Sharks that have to pull finger as opposed to the metaphorical person at the trigger!
The Sharks enter this penultimate round in eighth place, on points difference behind the Reds and the Hurricanes (all three are on 49), but it is so tight at the top that if the Sharks take five points from the match they will move up to the same tally as the Bulls, who are currently in fourth place – but then the other results of the weekend come into play.
As is usually the case at this stage of the season for the Sharks, the only way for them to bypass the ifs, buts and maybes is to win their last matches (they finish at home next week against the Cheetahs), and should they manage that, they will make the top six and have to travel to either Australia or New Zealand for a play-off, a fate only marginally worse than death but better than not having qualified at all.
The problem is that the Bulls have not given up on overhauling the Stormers, and so are also terming this game a “must-win”.
“I would like to believe that our team thrives on challenges, and the bigger they are the better we respond,” reckons coach Frans Ludeke.
“This, after all, is why the guys put in the hours and hours of hard work,” he continued.
“They want to be out there when the challenge is at its biggest and toughest. We prepared well and everyone is very keen to do well. We still have our destiny in our own hands, and want to keep it like that by beating the Sharks.”
Bulls captain Pierre Spies says he knows it will be very tough in Durban against a Sharks side that has a lot riding on the result.
“There are numerous game-breakers in their side and they do play in front of passionate supporters,” said Spies.
“We have been able to achieve important results there in the past, though, and the feeling in the camp is that we can do it again. We cannot repeat what happened in the last 20 minutes against the Cheetahs (the Free Staters recovered from 0-40 to lose 24-40). To beat the Sharks in Durban you not only need 80 minutes of effort, but a special 80 minutes at that.”
Speaking of the Cheetahs, they are expected to put up a fight against the Stormers in Bloemfontein before going down to the SA conference leaders while, in the later game on Saturday, the Lions should account for the Rebels. – The Mercury