DURBAN – Robert de Preez said it himself in the starkest of terms when he looked forward from the Sharks’ defeat to the Kings to Saturday’s match against the Sunwolves in Singapore (Kick-off: 13.55pm SA time)
“No more excuses,” the taciturn coach growled when his team was about to board a flight to Singapore, the south east Asian city where the Sunwolves have compromised with SANZAAR in hosting venues with South African teams, simply because Tokyo is to far too travel for the Africans.
For the record, the compromise is that the Sunwolves play in Tokyo when they have home games against Australasian teams, geography explaining that one.
But to cut to the chase, the Sharks are playing a Japanese team in Singapore that has just won once this season, the only other team as bad as them is the Rebels who, dare we mention drew with the Sharks in Durban. So actually that draw means the Rebels are better than the Sunwolves because it adds to their solitary win.
But let’s not split hairs ... Surely a Sharks team severely chastised by their coaching staff for allowing themselves to be bullied to defeat in Port Elizabeth last week are going to “get up” for this one.
Durbanites will surely hope so. Coach Du Preez, who is notoriously reticent with the press when discussing his team, dropped his guard on the day of his team’s departure to the East.
“I am at a loss for words,” he said. “We were completely prepared for what was coming from the Kings, we knew how fired up they would be, and yet we were out-muscled, out-played and out-passioned to the tune of four tries to two, and you can’t argue with that. I am tired of making excuses.”
The reality for the Sharks is that if they lose this one to the Sunwolves, their position of second place on the Africa 2 Conference suddenly becomes perilous because the Jagaures have not given up hope of finishing runners-up to the Lions, and after their match against the Sunwolves, the Sharks finish with three home derbies against the Stormers, Bulls and Lions.
Those games are at Kings Park, but no South African rugby fan needs reminding that anything can happen in a local derby.
In short, the Sharks have to win on Saturday to solidify their hopes of finishing second in their conference and earning an (away) quarter-final spot.
Playing away in a play-off to a New Zealand team, and probably losing (at the risk of sounding pessimistic), is better than finishing among the also-rans. Rather be in the race than not ...
The Sharks have got themselves into this position because of some unforgivable performances, some of which are too painful to mention, and we wish that team from Melbourne that drew with the Sharks in Durban the best of luck in their legal action against SANZAAR to remain in Super Rugby.
But let’s not go down the road of the Sharks’ inconsistent performances and focus on the starting line-up that they have picked (under duress as far the backline is concerned) for tomorrow’s match.
Du Preez has opted for Lwazi Mvovo at fullback, a position the Springbok wing will learn on the hoof given the need to keep Garth April at flyhalf because of the non-availability of Curwin Bosch and Patrick Lambie, for much publicised reasons.
To be fair, Mvovo has played 15 on a few occasions but it is a position he hardly comfortable in. Du Preez had the option of picking former SA Under 20 youngster Benhard Janse van Rensburg at 10 (he is on the bench), but it is obviously still fresh in the mind of the coach that Janse van Rensburg made a hash of his debut at flyhalf for the Sharks in the match in Durban against the Kings that the Sharks almost lost (they scraped home 19-17).
Du Preez has given a debut to centre Johan Deysel and recalled from the wilderness wing S.bura sithole.
In another backline calamity, veteran Michael Claassens is out of the match because of a late hamstring injury and youngster Rowan Gouws has been flown over as cover for Cobus Reinach.
Du Preez does not have similar problems at forward in terms of depth. In fact, he has picked a new front row in Lourens Adriaanse, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Thomas du Toit, although not too much should be read into this because in the second half he will bring on his “second front row” in Franco Marais, Beast Mtawarira and John-Hubert Meyer. Coenie Oosthuizen has been rested for this match in line with the agreement with Saru on Springbok contracted players.
Sharks team: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Johan Deysel, 11 S’busiso Nkosi, 10 Garth April, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Rowan Gouws, 22 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 23 S’bura Sithole.