DURBAN - It sounds quite obvious, but the Sharks, in preparing to face off against the Crusaders on Saturday in a Super Rugby quarterfinal, are not flying all the way to Christchurch to roll over and let fate take its course. They are in this situation to win.
What is different about this upcoming encounter is the fact that they have worked themselves into a position where they will have to beat the best side in the competition this year - the defending title holders on their home pitch.
It is a monumental task for the Sharks, but it is one that they are looking at very pragmatically.
Coach Robert du Preez mentioned after the Jaguares game at the weekend that, having watched the Highlanders come from behind to help stamp the Sharks’ passports, and then seeing his side win, he was stressed.
But, his approach towards the Crusaders does not feel as stressful, and that could have something to do with the way that they have performed against Kiwi opposition.
“They are top of the log, they are a great side,” Du Preez said of the Crusaders.
“We take encouragement that we have been good against New Zealand sides this year, but it is a wonderful opportunity for us and a massive challenge, but we are going to go out there to beat them, otherwise we should be staying home.”
It was not only the coach who had this straightforward view of the challenge that lies in wait for them.
Captain Ruan Botha when confronted with the historical records that are against the Sharks - such as the Crusaders only losing six home games in the last five years, and losing none in the past two years - said it was about making new history.
“History is history,” Botha said. “You write your own path. There is no team that will go up there and just go out there to lose.
“We are in the quarterfinals to win it. Travelling is not always easy but we will adapt to it as quick as possible.”
The Sharks will be hopeful that they have not lost any of the momentum they picked up in New Zealand against the Blues and Hurricanes, as well as back home against the Chiefs and Highlanders. However, the Crusaders will be a very different team from the ones they’ve previously faced.
Du Preez pinpointed two areas that he believes helps the Christchurch-based outfit succeed.
“The Crusaders keep the ball for multiple phases, and they have some very good individual players,” he mentioned.
“There was a glimmer of hope for the Sharks when two such influential players, All Black captain Kieran Read and midfielder Ryan Crotty, left the field against the Blues.
However, it seems that both their injuries are not serious enough to keep them out.
Both Read and Crotty suffered injuries to their thumbs, but the latter’s was assessed and deemed not serious at all, while Read heard some positive news but will have to wait and see if he is fit to play on Saturday.
The Sharks will no doubt be more focused on their own game and getting themselves hyped up and prepared for the challenge.
What has been encouraging from them this whole season is the way they can lift their game for big encounters, and this is the biggest of them all. The game will be shown on SuperSport 1 at 9.30am.