Four out of four. That’s what Jake White wants from the Sharks’ sojourn into the Antipodes over the next four weeks. But that statement was made before Friday night’s unexpected loss to the gallivanting Highlanders.
“This (loss) means that the game against the Rebels now becomes huge. We bounced back well from the loss to Bulls, and we will need to do the same in Melbourne,” White said.
Some of his players had suggested that three wins would represent a successful harvest from Melbourne, Canberra, Canterbury and Auckland, but White has set his sights on more.
“If I don’t believe we can do that, then I’m wasting my time,” the Sharks director of rugby reasoned earlier this week.
By the time the Sharks step off the park at North Harbour Stadium, a little after our breakfast on May 23, we will know a lot more about how genuine their title aspirations are. Overseas tours have a habit of breaking South African franchises’ spirit, putting them firmly in their place.
“I read somewhere that we have never beaten the Crusaders in Canterbury. The nice thing about that is it’s gonna happen,” White declared.
“So why can’t it be this year? We prepare to win every game, but it’s all relative. If we have a full-strength team, and are playing well, I think we can beat anyone. Once you go into a tour thinking ‘if we win here, and lose that one’, you end up losing everything,” he warned.
The Sharks are confident they can buck the dismal South African travelling trend this year, especially given White’s own experience in the way of life Down Under. The Brumbies picked his brains about all things South African when he was there last season, and White believes that the reverse will prove a very handy tool for the log-leading Sharks.
“I have no doubt that the insight I have, not only in terms of the players and coaches, but also of the psyche of the way they prepare for games, is going to help us a massive amount on this tour,” White explained.
“I can’t speak for other teams, but the Sharks have always been good on tour,” skipper Bismarck du Plessis echoed.
“We get to bond as a team, away from home, and we have a lot of fun, too. I’m looking forward to it.”
The tour will be the latest test for White’s Bok-laden, injury-ravaged squad to negotiate.
One of White’s early successes at the Sharks has been the confidence he has instilled in the playing squad, boldly picking inexperienced but promising players in positions of significant importance.
“If you don’t back the player, then why is here?” White shrugged.
As things stand, Frans Steyn will almost certainly have the No 10 jersey on his back. It would allow their best play-maker, Paul Jordaan, to shift to inside centre, and bring their speedy, but ball-starved outside backs more opportunities, as Steyn’s inclination to hold on to the ball has nullified their threat. - Sunday Independent