The Sharks could find themselves swimming – or should that be floundering? – in extremely dangerous waters if they fail to return to winning ways in this evening’s all-important Currie Cup clash against the Blue Bulls at Loftus.
Despite two defeats and a draw over the past three weeks of action, the Sharks have been able to hang on to fourth position in the standings, but they are being closely chased by the Cheetahs and Bulls, teams that are just two log points behind them.
In one of the early games today, the Cheetahs will be expected to overcome the winless Kings in Port Elizabeth, which would enable the Bloemfontein side to leapfrog the Sharks into a play-off position in the top four.
And should the in-form Bulls then clinch what would be their third successive win, the Sharks would be displaced to sixth place on the table, and left facing an uphill battle to reclaim a knockout berth.
It’s an unenviable prospect to consider, but the Sharks have accepted responsibility for their indifferent form in recent weeks, and have set their sights on continuing a much-needed resurgence that we began to see signs of last Saturday.
During the second half of that clash against the Cheetahs, the Sharks produced arguably their best rugby of the season, and only a last-minute penalty meant they had to settle for a draw rather than what would have been an impressive comeback win.
The Sharks will be determined to pick up where they left off today, but what the coaching staff are desperately crying out for is a much-needed 80-minute performance.
So far this season, the Durban side have produced the goods only in fits and starts, but there has been a significant emphasis on establishing some continuity in their game and improving the accuracy of their execution on attack.
Although the Sharks will be without injured forwards Stephan Lewies and Thomas du Toit this evening, they have been boosted by Lwazi Mvovo’s release from the Boks, and Paul Jordaan has returned refreshed after being afforded a rest last week.
A victory for the Sharks would do wonders to ease the pressure that has begun to build in recent weeks, and it would also enable them to remain in control of their own destiny.
Coach Brad Macleod-Henderson admitted that returning from Pretoria with at least four log points in the bag was simply non-negotiable.
“First of all we have to start winning again,” he said.
“Loftus is always a tough place to go, but we’re looking forward to the challenge. We know the Bulls have a big pack of forwards and a good kicking game, and so we need to make sure that we can match that, and take our opportunities.”
Securing a winning result in arguably their toughest fixture of the season so far would provide the Sharks with a much-needed confidence boost as they head into the final three rounds of the Currie Cup pool stages.
They would then be able to target a bonus-point win over the Kings in Durban next weekend and, hopefully, have some momentum on their side for the truly testing final two pool matches against the Lions and Western Province.
Macleod-Henderson acknowledged that it all started today.
“We’re sitting in fourth place at the moment, so if you really think about it, we probably need to win three out of four from here (to guarantee a semi-final berth). But we’re not really worried about that at the moment, we’re just focused on the Bulls.
“The Bulls are on a run of form, and it will be a battle up front. We also know they will kick the ball on us and try put pressure on us from their kicks.
“So we need to deal with that, but if there are opportunities out wide, then we really have to take them.” - Independent on Saturday