DURBAN – The Sharks emphatically swept aside the Sunwolves in Singapore at the weekend, but they know that far sterner opposition will greet them in the shape of the Blues at Kings Park on Saturday.
The Aucklanders were hugely impressive, not to mention improved, in their narrow loss to the Crusaders at Eden Park on Friday.
They have arrived in Durban confident and hungry to turn their frustrating loss to the champions at the weekend into a victory over the Sharks.
Late in the game in Auckland, the young Blues replacement flyhalf Harry Plummer fluffed easy kicks at goal that would have given his team a shock victory.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson afterwards acknowledged that his team had got out of jail against a Blues side that are under refreshing new management, headed by none other that Robertson’s 2017 assistant, Leon MacDonald – the former Crusaders and All Blacks fullback.
As players, MacDonald and Robertson were in the same Crusaders team that won multiple Super Rugby titles, so it is to be expected that MacDonald has introduced the Crusaders’ discernment to a Blues outfit that has been all over the show pretty much since they last won the title in 2003.
The Sharks would do well to digest the words of Robertson after his team had sneaked home 24-22.
“I was really impressed by the Blues. You have got to give it to them, there’s a lot more detail in their game. They’re pretty clear in what they’re doing,” Robertson said, which could not be said of the Blues during their last three years under Tana Umaga, another former All Black captain, but one whose cavalier approach produced mayhem, not wins.
The clean-out of the Blues coaching staff has also seen the Aucklanders poach the renowned Chiefs forwards coach Tom Coventry.
MacDonald said this of the Blues’ forward effort: “They were brutal round the breakdown. Tom has done a great job. They’re holding you and cleaning round the corner. It was very Chiefs-like.
“That’s the detail I was talking about. They’re very brutal around it, and showed the extra edge they’ve got.”
The Sharks have their own accomplished breakdown specialist in Nick Easter, the former England loose forward, and he would have been pleased with how his forwards went against the rough and tough Sunwolves pack.
It's game week for the @CellC Sharks as they face off with the @BluesRugbyTeam in their first home game of the Vodacom @SuperRugby campaign.🏉— The Sharks (@TheSharksZA) February 18, 2019
This match promises to be an epic encounter, so be sure not to miss it! Tickets available at the stadium and https://t.co/R3Azz6O8Hr 🎫 pic.twitter.com/sZrdjMfijh
The Sharks forwards were clinical in all facets of their play, providing the foundation for slick attacks from set-pieces, and an overall performance that was a blend of high-paced attack and brute force.
For the Blues clash, the Sharks will welcome back from injury Curwin Bosch and centre Marius Louw, with the former likely to slot in at fullback.
That would be tough on youngster Aphelele Fassi, but understandable, given Bosch’s rich pedigree.
Fassi, in his first touch of Super Rugby, took a difficult up-and-under against the Sunwolves and later set up the Sharks’ sixth try, dotted down by Jeremy Ward.@MikeGreenaway67