DURBAN – Not only are things hotting up in terms of the African Conference in Super Rugby, but a little closer to home, the expectation on the Sharks to shine against New Zealand -opposition will be high this week.
The Highlanders are in town after a morale-boosting, last-minute, one-point victory against the Bulls at Loftus, and they will be readying themselves for the surprising Sharks.
Even after the Durban-outfit had left the shores of New Zealand, the pundits were still talking about how they left the Blues and Hurricanes a little shell-shocked, having dealt so well with the Kiwi style of play.
It will mean that there is nowhere to hide for the Sharks, who are at home this week, when they take on their third New Zealand side in this year’s competition. It will also mean a higher level of expectation from their fans.
The Sharks will be returning to work today after their bye, and their win over the Stormers before that, knowing that the Highlanders are not to be taken lightly. The team from Otago managed to beat the Bulls with barely 30% of the possession at the weekend.
The Highlanders showed that they can score when needed and when they have the ball, but also proved that they can soak up immense pressure. The Bulls should have taken their chances and pushed themselves out of reach on the scoreboard.
The Sharks have already learned this lesson, when in Napier against the Hurricanes, where they were also sunk in the final movement of the game. Hopefully experience will count in this important clash.
It is important for the Sharks to keep winning, and in the greater scheme of things they need to perform in their remaining games if they are to make it to the play-offs.
The African conference table is heavily congested just behind the Lions.
However, the big surprise is that the Jaguares are now sitting in second, with 20 points, after they beat the Brumbies in Canberra.
The Bulls also have 20 points, and the Stormers are two points behind them with 18 points after beating the ¬Rebels at Newlands. This puts them equal with the Sharks, who are however last on the log, but with a game in hand.