OPINION: Sharks in danger of running out of legs
The Sharks have a very unusual draw, one that has them play eight matches in a row before their first bye then another whopping eight games in a row before their second break, which happens to be the final round of the group stage.
If the Sharks qualify for the playoffs, and you have to think that is a certainty on current form, they will treasure that rest week before the knockout stage, but until then it is going to be a tough old slog for them.
Having got back from Brisbane earlier this week, the Sharks host the Jaguares, Stormers and Chiefs on successive weekends to complete what will feel like a half marathon, then it is feet up followed by the next half marathon. The plus side to their draw is that their tour is out of the way, and they are just a point behind the Stormers at the top of the South African Conference, with the Capetonians still to go on tour to Australasia.
But the question is can the Sharks keep their momentum going over these encroaching home games...
This week in particular is a tough hurdle given that the squad have hardly unpacked their bags from their tour, but I am sure Sean Everitt will box clever with selection this week, as he in fact has done all tournament, making subtle changes here and there to refresh the team. A salutary lesson regarding the Sharks and the first game back from tour was in 2018. The Sharks had played well on tour and in their last fortnight smashed the Blues in Auckland and then were robbed by the Hurricanes 38-37, thanks to a post-hooter try.
They came to play the Bulls at Jonsson Kings Park and the same (unchanged) team that featured brightly in New Zealand was humiliated 40-10. Player management really is the key to the Sharks sustaining their success over the next few weeks, and, indeed, onwards.
Everitt has to rotate his players, and he already has been doing it. He also shrewdly rested his captain and his star try-scorer on tour, meaning Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi will be fresh for this week’s game. The coach has also had a little help, if you can call it that, by the early tour injury to Sbu Nkosi, who came home to get over a hamstring injury and is now fit and raring to go and will most likely start against Saturday’s match against the Jagaures for Madosh Tambwe, who deputised ably for Nkosi.
Everitt has also managed his loose forwards, one area where he is well stocked. Abrasive blindside flank Tyler Paul and first-choice fetcher James Venter will also return this week after breaks, following opportunities for youngsters Dylan Richardson and Phepsi Buthelezi.
One area of concern for Everitt is the second row where he hardly has the ample options he has at loose forward.
Hyron Andrews and Ruben van Heerden have carried a heavy load and it might be time to give a start to beefy Le Roux Roets, who made a significant impact off the bench on tour.