But now, 11 games on, and it seems the hare from the Cape has stuttered as the tortoise from Durban looks to officially overtake them at Kings Park today at 5.15pm.
Perhaps the race is already won. The Sharks have 38 points, and the Stormers 30. However, because of the different African groups, the Stormers are entitled to a home playoff, while the Sharks are only picking up a wildcard spot as it stands.
This match will give the Sharks another chance to make a true mockery of the strange conference system, which also has the Brumbies topping a group with a pitiful 23 points.
It is there for the Sharks to take, for instead of racing off blatantly at the start of the season, the Stormers have also now shown how fragile they are to a “Kiwi-style” attack plan.
It is something the Sharks have witnessed, taken note of, and hope to implement at Kings Park.
Captain Philip van der Walt, who has a few degrees and diplomas behind his name, has taken on board the lessons that the likes of the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes dished out.
“We have picked up a couple of things we can use,” he said. “One is to stop them as early as possible within the first two phases, force them to rather kick or try something different. If we concede yards from the big boys coming around the corner, we’re going to have a long day at the office.”
Essentially, the Sharks have admitted they need to be sharp on defence, but they also know that it cannot turn into a slug-fest, with the Stormers throwing all the attacking blows.
The Kiwi sides blew the Stormers and their fledgling attacking plan out of the water, and that has to be the game plan this evening.
In terms of confidence, the Sharks will be brimming with it after scoring six tries and nabbing a bonus point in Singapore, despite the full extent of the game perhaps not being as impressive as the scoreline suggested.
“I really enjoyed the intent we had on attack against the Sunwolves, I think we are on the right track,” coach Rob du Preez explained.
His captain echoed those sentiments, and admitted that there was no reason for the team to turn away from the way they signed off the Sunwolves match.
“There are a lot of positives we can take out of our previous game: the intent with which the guys want to play, now it’s just to tighten it up a little,” Van der Walt added.
“We also need to take in the importance for us to win this game, not forgetting our desire to play a brand and style of rugby that we can be proud of. And we need to improve our play if we want to compete and win this competition.”
The coach also has the advantage of selecting a near-identical team as the one that did the business in Singapore, keeping his injury ravaged backline as is and making just one change at the tighthead.
Coenie Oosthuizen returns after his Springbok-enforced rest in the hopes of making, along with a bunch of other players, a big impact ahead of the June Test window.