The Sharks depart for London tomorrow for their friendly against Saracens on Saturday, their sole warm-up game before their Super Rugby opener against the Bulls on February 15, and coach Jake White is hoping that he has better luck with injuries than his predecessor John Plumtree had this time last year.
In 2013, Plumtree opted for a low-key match against the Leopards in Pietermaritzburg, and half a dozen players seriously crocked themselves, including then captain Keegan Daniel and fellow loose forward Marcell Coetzee, and other first-choice starters in fullback Louis Ludik and centre Tim Whitehead.
That set the tone for a never-ending injury count, and White says he is holding thumbs that this year the injury bogey stays away.
“The most important thing about this game is that we get through it injury-free. Obviously people will appreciate that Saracens are in the middle of their season, while this is the first hit-out for us,” White said.
“We haven’t had any contact situations or a fully fledged fixture. But what I enjoy about this game is that it mimics a little bit of what we can expect from the Bulls.
“Saracens play a little bit like the Bulls. They have a big pack of forwards, their set piece is strong, they kick a lot,” White observed.
“It gives me and the coaching staff an opportunity to see the things we want to do against the Bulls, to have an idea of whether or not we can play against the Bulls in a certain way.
“I think it gives us an opportunity, from a playing style point of view, to see what we’re up against when we play the Bulls in February.”
White said the opportunity to measure up against an in-form English Premiership team would allow him to evaluate how close or far the Sharks are from the standard required to be competitive in Super Rugby.
“We all know how tough this competition is,” the coach said. “The Sharks played in the final two years ago, then came eighth last year. It shows how small the margins are. One thing we need to stress is that we have to have attention to detail.
“There is no doubt the players want to win. There is no doubt there are great resources available to them,” White continued.
“What I can focus on is making sure we are a little more accurate and there is complete attention to detail in everything we do – that we don’t just go through the motions.”
White said the players were pitching for work at 7am and knocking off at 6pm, doing whatever they could to attend to those finer details.
“Time will tell if those sacrifices we’re making are going to be the difference between where we ended in the past, and where would like to end,” he said.
“And Saracens will give us a good indication of the progress we have made.” - The Mercury