DURBAN – The Currie Cup round robin games draw to a close today with the Sharks taking on Western Province at 3pm at Kings Park, and for the first time in a long time, it is hardly do-or-die.
The Sharks are assured of a spot in the semi-finals, in fact they are assured of a home semi-final, as well as top spot on the log regardless of what happens on this closing weekend.
It is of course a fantastic position to be in for a team that has finished in fifth, out of the knockout stages in the Currie Cup, two years running.
However, even though this game is the deadest of dead rubbers, there is no doubting it will be taken seriously because there is a lot of momentum that needs building.
The Sharks want to finish off this Currie Cup campaign on a high, a high that hopefully involves captain Ruan Botha holding a famous old trophy aloft, but they are not assured of that at all.
The nature of knockout rugby is scarily harsh, and on the day, anything can happen.
Coach Robert du Preez is looking for some momentum out of the Province clash as the Sharks are coming off a bye, and have had a bit of a turbulent week in terms of training.
“This game is really important,” Du Preez said. “Of course we want to have momentum going into the semis and you always have to be careful when you are coming back from a break. Post-bye games often pose a challenge for teams.
“We have had a bit of disruptive week. The storm on Tuesday took care of training but we had a fantastic session on Thursday,” he added. “We will be ready come game time.”
One of the ploys the coach has used to help get over the bye week and the rustiness that comes with it has been to select nearly the same team that did well against the Lions in wet conditions last time out.
The only change for the Sharks is a good one, though, as one of their many stars in the making, Lukhanyo Am, returns to the No 13 berth in place of Tristan Blewett.
Du Preez has at his disposal a number of returning Springboks, as well as some from injuries, but he has instead decided to load his bench.
The power on the bench includes Chiliboy Ralepelle, Jean-Luc du Preez, fresh off their Bok duty, as well as Louis Schreuder who was in the Bok camp. Kobus van Wyk also returns via the bench.
This game is also an important one for a true living legend at the Sharks, Odwa Ndungane, and it has been billed as his tribute match.
The stalwart wing will be making his 249th appearance in the black and white of the Sharks.
Du Preez has hinted that he’d like to see him make it 250, if not 251, before finally hanging up his boots.