DURBAN – Memories of last year’s demise in the Currie Cup final are still fresh for the Sharks and they are hungrier than ever to beat the Golden Lions on Saturday and advance to the final where they are almost certain of a rematch with Western Province.
But first things first... directly in front of the Sharks is a proud Lions team that will still be smarting from the heavy defeat they suffered at Kings Park last month and which will be considerably strengthened by returning Springboks.
Sharks centre Jeremy Ward says he and his teammates can’t wait to get stuck in on Saturday (2.30pm kickoff).
“It is knock-out rugby and with that there is huge excitement. We worked very hard to get here and the guys are really hungry,” Ward said. “It is about channelling that hunger correctly and taking the field in the right frame of mind.”
With the stakes so high in semi-finals, teams often go the conservative route but Ward reckons the Sharks will still back themselves if a counter-attack is on.
“Bonus points don’t count, but if opportunities are there we have to take them. We can’t change our whole style of play at this stage of the year,” the 22-year-old said. “We are an exciting team with a very good backline.
“Our outside backs are firing so we have to get the ball into their hands and work around them. So if there are points on offer we must be willing to take them.”
The last time the Lions came to Durban the Sharks did plenty of defending, and this is likely to be the case again given the Johannesburg team’s big focus on attack.
“Defence is vital in games like this,” Ward said. “The Lions also have some Boks coming back in Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe and Aphiwe Dyantyi which gives us different challenges to when we played them last time. We have worked hard on our defence shape this week.
“It is all about sticking to our systems, trusting the guys inside and outside of you, because if we can keep them out and then put some points on the board we will be in a very good position to win.
“Of course we have to be on the lookout for their Bok stars, but it would be foolish of me to say we are putting all our energy on them. We are focusing on our systems because if we stick to what we are good at, we know we can pull off the result.”
With summer approaching in Durban, Ward says home-ground advantage is going to be significant.
“Playing at home does give us an advantage. The weather conditions in Durban are different this time of the year, we are used to the warmer weather so it plays into your hands. And hopefully we can get some bums on seats because when this crowd roars we really respond to them so this is a call out to the people of Durban to support us,” Ward said.