DURBAN - Coach Robert du Preez does not often blow the horn of his own side, or get too lavish with his praise, but after the Sharks blew the Highlanders away 38-12 at Kings Park on Saturday, the former Natal player was full of positives about the performance.
“This is probably one of the best Sharks performances I have seen in many years,” the coach said in summation of the dominant display.
Indeed, the Sharks were all impressive as they managed to keep the Highlanders, with their star All Blacks, quiet. Barring one late run by Ben Smith, Arron Smith at scrumhalf and even the bustling wing Waisake Naholo were all made to appear quite absent from the match.
The Sharks put on one of their best showings all season, and it again came against one of the highly rated New Zealand sides, but Du Preez admits that he does not think it is simply a New Zealand thing.
“I don’t think it is just the New Zealand teams, I think the boys just really clicked,” the coach said. “One to 23 did the business, and when the bench came on they did unbelievably well -there were Some great individual performances.”
One of the standouts was centre Andre Esterhuizen, who earned the official man-of-the-match award, and according to his coach, probably also caught the eye of Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus.
The Sharks also reinforced the trend that a bye at a crucial stage can help reinvigorate a side. The Durban-based team managed to grind out a win against the Stormers before taking their second bye, which came after a long stint that included a four-week tour.
“It is a tough competition,” Du Preez said. “I think we played eight games in a row, with four weeks on tour, so the break was great, good for the boys, they came back energised. But I have to commend them on the individual work they put in.
“We had a Bok camp, and I think that helped a lot too. The boys took ownership, all 15 of those at the camp, but not just them, the whole squad too.”
The Sharks now prepare to take on the Bulls at Loftus next week, in what will again be a must-win match as the Pretoria side is also seeking a play-off spot in the South African conference.
If the Sharks win in Pretoria, not only will they cement themselves near the summit, and in the running for play-off rugby, they will also dent their direct competition’s chance of making it through. The Sharks also helped themselves by picking up a bonus point
“The bonus point is a big bonus,” Du Preez said. “We would have been happy with just a win, but this helps. We need to keep working hard, and keep on improving.”