DURBAN - The Sharks have entered the second half of the Currie Cup draw four points clear of the Cheetahs, the team they beat at the weekend, but that handy position will be tested over the next fortnight.
The Sharks play the Pumas on Friday in Nelspruit and Griquas in Kimberley a week later. No “gimmees” there, particularly given that this competition is the priority for the aforementioned unions.
The smaller unions target the Currie Cup and field full-strength teams against the weakened Super Rugby franchises, and quite often get shock results.
The Bulls won’t forget getting 50 points from Griquas in a hurry and the Pumas have beaten the Bulls and they came within a point of beating the Lions on Saturday.
The Sharks have the majority of their Super Rugby side playing Currie Cup, give or take a few players at the Boks and others on sabbatical in Japan, and at this stage they would seem to have the inside track to a home semi-final and possible final.
But mention the play-offs to Sharks coach Robert du Preez and you will likely get a frown.
“There is still a heck of a lot of rugby to be played and, to be honest, there is still a lot that we need to work on,” Du Preez said after the 45-15 win over a seriously under-strength Cheetahs team.
The coach was a man of mixed emotions after this match. You certainly got the feeling that he wanted more from his team.
The Free Staters have just short of two starting teams over in Ireland contesting the Pro 14 competition (28 players), so the Sharks played a young but highly energised Cheetahs “C” team.
A reasonably good crowd turned out at Kings Park for the match and most of the fans would have expected their team to score well over 50 points. It did not happen.
The Sharks scored seven tries to two but had to sweat for every point. It was far from an annihilation.
Du Preez was not over the moon by his team’s performance, but at the same time was not overly fussed given that this was always going to be a tricky game for the Sharks. Nobody really knew what to expect.
“It was tougher than we expected to be honest, and the Cheetahs made us work hard for every single point, so well done to them,” the Sharks coach said.
“Overall I guess it was a positive performance. The guys put in a lot of hard work during the week and ran a lot. Among other things, that was a serious fitness exercise. The game was played at a very fast pace and there were long periods of the ball in play.”
But Du Preez was not satisfied with a few things his team had focused on during the week, notably the old chestnut of finishing off opportunities in the opposition 22.
“We had hoped to be more clinical in that area, which continues to be an ongoing concern for us,” Du Preez said. “I am not at all happy about the number of turnovers we conceded on attack.
“But as I said, the Cheetahs were very good, they had a lot of motivated Varsity Cup players and they gave us a run for our money. Let us give credit where it is due,” Du Preez concluded.
“And a vital aspect for us is that we suffered no injuries.”