A true litmus test of the Sharks’ championship credentials is sure to be provided in the encounter against the Bulls, which will see the Super Rugby frontrunners playing their first away game of the competition.
So far this season the Sharks have comfortably clinched four successive victories in the comfort of Kings Park, with their narrowest winning margin coming against the Lions when they still bagged a bonus-point 37-23 win.
Yet, despite the Durban side’s impressive start to the competition, director of rugby Jake White made an interesting assertion this week when he highlighted how prophets of doom continued to find reasons to suggest why the Sharks’ winning run would come to an end.
“When we played the Hurricanes, there was talk about the dangers of their All Black backline, then we needed to be wary of a desperate Lions team with their backs against the wall. And before the Reds game, it was about watching out for their dangerous 9-10 combination of (Will) Genia and (Quade) Cooper.
“So yes, this game is another big challenge, it’s our first away game, but I’m looking at it from all the positives, the glass is half full. We’ve had a great start, we have a settled team, and hopefully we can build on that momentum.”
The point White was making is that if the Sharks get sidetracked by predictions or get caught up in the hype, that is when they run the risk of coming unstuck.
With this in mind, White’s message will revolve around ensuring they remain focused on the task at hand, and stick to what has worked for them over the first month of the competition.
“Rewind to a few weeks ago when there was a number on our backs and we were favourites, we were spoken up as one of the form teams, and nothing’s changed. We have points on the board and people see we are a genuine threat, but we know what we have to do, and I want this to be a positive thing.
“One of the things I’ve enjoyed since we’ve been together is that every challenge we’ve had, we’ve managed to prepare properly and get a result,” White added.
Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis suggested composure would be key against the Bulls.
“As a team we are starting to gel together, but I would like to execute a little more when we get chances and are put under pressure.
“We need to play in the right places of the field, and because the Bulls play a lot more of a kicking and driving game, it’s vital to stop that. But ultimately, we don’t want to change too much from what we’ve been doing.”
And, while the smart money should be on the Sharks to go five from five tonight, history tells us these matches are very rarely won by big margins – four out of the last six have been decided by seven points or less.
The Bulls are also enjoying a resurgence of sorts after winning their last two games at home, and will be fully aware a win over the Sharks could completely change the complexion of their season.
“The last two games have done a lot for us,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke acknowledged. “They’ve given us confirmation that we’re on the right track.” - Saturday Independent