DURBAN - There will be no shortage of BMT in the Sharks team during Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Bulls (2.30pm) at Kings Park, reckons veteran scrumhalf Michael Claassens.
There can be few better judges of character than the 34-year-old Claassens, who has been around the rugby block a few times in a glittering career that has taken on long periods at English premiership club Bath and French heavyweights Toulon, where he not only rubbed shoulders with some of the game’s superstars but also won a number of trophies.
In fact Claassens’ relationship with silverware dates back to his early days with the Cheetahs, where he was part of the team that won the 2005 Currie Cup, and he says he would very much like to go full circle with the Sharks in this year’s Currie Cup.
“A number of our players have not played in semi-finals or finals at this level but they have all played plenty of big games this year and have not been found wanting,” the 34-year-old said.
“When they have needed to perform, they have. I don’t think Saturday will be anything different for them. We are not trying to make it such a big thing. We want it to feel like a normal game and they need to take it as a normal game.”
Likewise, the Bulls are not exactly awash with trophy winners although half a dozen of the players that will be in action against the Sharks were in last year’s Currie Cup final defeat to the Cheetahs.
“We are definitely on the right track in the way we have played this year, particularly the Currie Cup, and when the challenge has been laid down by the coaching staff, the players have stepped up,” Claassens said.
“This team has shown that the guys perform in big games and a good foundation has been laid ahead of Super Rugby next year, which will be the next challenge and a step up.”
And winning against the Bulls and going a step further in the final, which would also be at Kings Park if the Sharks are in it, would cap a year of steady growth and consolidation for the Durban franchise, according to Claassens.
“It will be massive if we can win the Currie Cup and it will be a launching point for us in Super Rugby as well,” he said. “This team can do it. I have been around and I know there is rich potential in our squad. There is so much talent coming through. The Sharks... should be in finals every year, and they should be winning them.”
But a trophy, not to mention a final, has eluded them since Keegan Daniel’s team won the Currie Cup trophy in 2013. Claassens says the time is now right for the current Sharks to break new ground.
“I am confident we can win on Saturday and again next week,” he said. “At Toulon, we won quite a few trophies. It wasn’t rare. It comes down to consistent form and belief, and apart from the hiccup last week against Province, the Sharks have shown those attributes this season (they won 10 matches in a row).”
Claassens knows what he is talking about. He was part of the Toulon Top 14 winning team, as well as the European Heineken Cup champion side. He also won a Challenge Cup winners medal with Bath.