Durban - With 10 Sharks players having headed into the first Bok camp of the year on Sunday, the Durban side will only be able to reconvene as a full squad later this week to continue their preparations for Saturday’s all-important encounter against the Stormers at King’s Park.
It will be their first home game in a month, but also their last in Durban potentially until the play-offs. After this weekend’s round of action, the Super Rugby competition will take a break during the June international window, and once the Sharks return to action, away fixtures against the Stormers and Cheetahs will complete their pool commitments.
Nine Sharks players were initially announced in the Springbok training squad, but young lock Stephan Lewies received a call-up on Saturday after captain Jean de Villiers was ruled out with a knee injury.
“Stephan is playing in his first Super Rugby campaign and has been impressive for the Sharks this year, and was one of their stars on their recent Australasian tour,” said Bok coach Heyneke Meyer.
The Sharks returned to South Africa on Saturday after a highly successful overseas tour, which saw them claim three wins out of four, while their victory over the Blues last Friday enabled them to consolidate their five point buffer at the top of the overall log.
It’s a position of real strength, but there is one more significant challenge that the Sharks will need to face before being able to look forward to a well-deserved break. On Saturday, the Stormers secured their second successive win, this time hammering the Cheetahs 33-0, and so the travel-weary Sharks will know that the resurgent Capetonians will pose a real threat.
As they have been all season, the Sharks were absolutely miserly on defence against the Blues, while the execution of their highly-effective game-plan once again illustrated that they have a template for success.
“It wasn’t the best attacking performance you’ll ever see, but to fair we were never going to play like that against a Blues team that is so dangerous from turn-over ball,” said director of rugby Jake White. “It was about making use of our forward pack and using Frans Steyn’s big boot.”
The 27-year-old Steyn has begun to look more comfortable in the flyhalf role during the pastcouple of weeks, but the Sharks will be hoping to welcome Pat Lambie back from injury before the play-offs.
“Frans is a quality player, and I’ve always said that,” said White. “He won a World Cup when he was 19. All that experience is now what he’s handing down to others. But it will obviously be a big boost for us to hopefully get Pat back.”
With their win over the Brumbies at the weekend, the Bulls have stayed in the race for South African conference honours, but the Sharks still hold an 11-point lead at the top of the SA standings.