DURBAN - The last time the Sharks went to Newlands they got badly burned, but assistant coach Nick Easter says the players are much the better for the humiliation of shipping 50 points to Western Province that day.
So the Sharks venture down to Cape Town “once bitten, twice shy” and that could be a significant factor should the Durbanites go on to win the final. In short, Easter says the Sharks “did not turn up” mentally in that match while the home team turned it on, and a hiding was the result.
“We have had first-hand experience of what a quality side they are, how lethal they are, so we have to be well prepared and focused for 80 minutes,” the former England No 8 said. “It was a big wake-up call regarding where we were. We had been stuttering along, but we are getting more consistency now because we learned what it will take to become champions.”
Easter said that match had been a turning point for the Sharks and they have kicked on nicely since: “There is much more clarity now in terms of what we want to achieve. Our turnover rate was too high in previous games and Province in particular punished us... they exploited certain flaws in our systems as well.
“They always say that you learn more when you lose. As much as you want to try and treat each week exactly the same, and not be outcome driven, it always ends up like that in professional sport, unfortunately.”
Easter said that over the last month the players have stepped up and taken ownership of their performances: “We are very happy with where the guys are. They have taken responsibility and are starting to drive the standards in training and translating that into the games. At the end of the day it is down to them, they are the guys that have to make the decisions on the field.”
This weekend's @TheCurrieCup semi-final saw a chase down for the ages, when #OurSharks young flyer, @onke_fassi reeled in @Springboks flyer Aphiwe Dyantyi from behind!🏃
Re-live the moment here, and see what goes through a player's mind in these situations.💭#OurSharksForever pic.twitter.com/iqD7PGqEPj
This much was evident in the weekend’s semi-final win over the Golden Lions, which required a combination of skill on attack, fortitude on defence and character to ultimately thwart the Lions’ comeback.
“It was a great workout for us, we played some excellent rugby and should have been well clear on the scoreboard but semi-finals can be tricky, teams like the Lions stick in it and they force you into mistakes and then punish you for them, but the guys closed out the game tremendously well and showed great resilience and composure under pressure,” Easter reflected.
The Sharks will have been encouraged by their performance and they will know that they have toughened up mentally. “From the mental side of things, it was the perfect semi-final to win,” Easter said.
“When the pressure comes on, you have to know how to deal with it. When you have everything your own way, and then it does not quite go for you, that is when you can come unstuck. But we passed the test.”
“WP are a very, very good side and they score a lot of points. Even in the game at the weekend they managed to put 30 points on the Bulls before extra time, and they scored four tries in the wet the week before, so we know they score points and that means we will have to keep them out for long periods of the game. It is going to be a big ask, but we are going to look after the boys this week and make sure they have enough in the tank to be able to do that.”