Whatever the result of this morning’s (9.35am) Super Rugby match between the Sharks and Hurricanes, we can be assured the rejuvenated Sharks will test the Hurricanes to their limits in what is the Durban team’s closing tour match.
Andre Esterhuizen, the blockbusting centre, put it very bluntly: “The key to us winning this match is to keep them out and smash them back, and then make them do some defending.”
Succinctly put. It is as simple as that for the Sharks who this week have repeatedly spoken about aggressive but disciplined defence to keep the home team’s variety of attacking threats out.
“Let’s be honest, the Hurricanes are the form team in Super Rugby and the best of the Kiwi teams so far. So we have to give our absolute all. We are not favourites to win this game so we have nothing to lose,” Esterhuizen said. “If we stick to our defensive structure and knock them out of their stride, then we can manage the game and play how we want to play, and if we get that right we will beat them.”
Esterhuizen said that the Sharks needed to put in some “big hits” and disrupt the rhythm of a team that has attacking threats from 15 to 1.
“We have to win the contact battles,” the centre said.
“Then we will be half way there. We showed against the Blues what we can do when the backline gets quality possession. While we are heavily focussed on defence for this game, we also aim to make the Hurricanes do more defending than they would prefer.”
The 63-40 win over the Blues in Auckland has clearly lifted the Sharks into believing they can beat the Hurricanes in Napier.
“It was a great game at Eden Park for us after our bad start to the tour. Things came together and there has been a notable lift in confidence regarding how we want to play the game,” Esterhuizen said.
“After the two losses in Australia, we were very frustrated because we were playing below our potential. Everybody just said ‘Let’s get back to the basics of our game, let’s not be apprehensive about playing our own rugby and not focus too much on what the other team delivers. Let’s rather focus on what we know we can do’.
“We have a great team and if we just play our own rugby, we can beat anybody, and we got that belief from the win over the Blues,” Esterhuizen added.
Esterhuizen was one of the best Sharks players against the Blues and it is unquestionable that the backline clicked because the forwards at last went forward and not backwards.
“The front-foot ball we got against the Blues was a massive factor. Even the best backline in the world cannot perform on the back foot, so getting good ball from the set pieces was huge for us.
“It gave us the platform to attack out wide or attack through the midfield with a view to offloading to the support runners.”
Esterhuizen, who has had a reputation as being more of a basher than a creator, was a revelation in his off-loading in the tackle, which led to several of the Sharks’ tries.
“I am feeling good about my rugby,” he said. “I have started to play a bit differently by adding variety to my game. It was a long season for me in Japan but it helped me develop new skills, especially regarding my distribution and offloading. I have discovered that creating tries for my teammates is probably more satisfying than scoring tries of my own.
Meanwhile the Sharks have named an unchanged team to play the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes - 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Sam Henwood, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves
Subs: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ben May, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Wes Goosen.
Sharks - 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (c), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Tyler Paul, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Kobus van Wyk