DURBAN - There was a glimmer of smile from a clearly relieved Robert du Preez on Saturday night after his team had turned in a performance against the Stormers at Kings Park that was not far off the biblical Lazarus rising from the dead.
Just a week ago, the Sharks were MIA against the Bulls at the same venue, but the coach flicked a mental switch among his charges and the Sharks were missing-in-action no more. It was far from pretty, especially the first half, but if you are the Sharks’ hierarchy, who the heck cares?
The Sharks had to win to keep alive their play-off aspirations and they did just that thanks to an unstoppable surge by Thomas du Toit in the 73rd minute to break the 17-17 deadlock, and the Sharks hung on for an invaluable win.
For Du Toit, the man of the match, it was a remarkable performance at tighthead given that in the Currie Cup final last year, he was given a hiding when he was playing at loosehead, by the same team.
Du Toit is one of the most affable players in the Sharks squad and coach Du Preez was full of praise for the 22-year-old, 136kg man-mountain, who this season switched from loosehead to tighthead.
“I have always said that he has incredible talent and he had to put his head down and persevere,” the coach said. “It would have been easy to make changes after one or two bad games, but he showed that he can become one of the best tightheads in the world.”
Du Preez said that “as bad as it was last week, it was outstanding” on Saturday night, in terms of his team’s overall performance.
“What was the difference? With hindsight we maybe worked the guys too hard in the Bulls week after a long, four-week tour,” he said. “It takes time to get back into the South African rhythm and get over the time factor.
"We learned a lesson there. Our focus was to make sure the energy levels were right up there and that is why the guys played so well. They were clearly refreshed, and they had to be against a team that was equally desperate for the win.”
Naturally, the obvious question is how the notoriously inconsistent Sharks perform in their next outing, against the Highlanders in Durban on May 5. The Sharks have a bye this week.
“We can’t go backwards. No, that is not an option,” said the coach. “We have to build on this good performance. If I have one criticism it is our over-anxiety to offload at times when we would be better served taking the ball through the phases.”
Du Preez said there was a good chance that The Beast would be back to play the Highlanders, having had the benefit of sitting out the Bulls and Stormers matches and now enjoying the bye. He is recovering from a groin strain.