DURBAN - Sharks captain Ruan Botha says strong competition for places in the starting line-up, improved conditioning and a strong desire to move on from the disappointment of the 2017 Currie Cup implosion in October have transformed his squad.
The Sharks have been impressive in their convincing pre-season wins over the Bulls in Polokwane and Racing 92 in Hong Kong, and now have just under two weeks to fine-tune ahead of their Super Rugby opener against the Lions in Johannesburg on 17 February.
The Sharks arrived back from the Far East on Monday and Botha, said the trip abroad had been significantly beneficial on a number of levels.
“What is clear this year is we have very healthy competition for places and this strength in depth can only be good in terms of our goal of being in the final on August 4, because that is what we are striving towards. Nothing less,” Botha said.
The towering lock said the week in Hong Kong had been vital in that the newcomers to the squad got to bond with the established players.
“We have a number of new youngsters promoted to the senior squad plus new stars like Makazole Mapimpi and Robert du Preez Jr,” Botha said. “It was a week of seeing the sights of Hong Kong plus training hard, and it cannot be underestimated how the players gelled over that week. It was awesome, and you had a guy returning to the Sharks in Cameron Wright who played really well.”
Wright, a Westville man schooled at Hilton College, followed former Sharks coach Jake White to Montpellier, but has returned to Durban and has slotted in very well after the pre-season injury to Springbok Louis Schreuder.
“What is working is the competition in the squad in that it is keeping the guys on their toes,” Botha said. “Everybody is pushing for places and it is in a healthy team environment.
“No player is certain of his stating position and he knows that there is a player pushing him hard for the jersey. This can only be good for our ambitions in Super Rugby.”
Botha, 26, said that the unexpected reverses in two telling games at Kings Park against Western Province last October, including the Currie Cup final defeat, 33-21, had revolutionised the Sharks’ approach to pre-season training.
“In the Currie Cup last year we were committed to playing attacking rugby, but in the end we were failing to score tries,” Botha said. “We looked at how we could do things differently in pre-season to give us a better chance of backing up our publicised aim to score tries.
“Our intent to score tries with a brand of rugby that will fill up Kings Park is stronger than ever. We resorted to a conditioning approach that was totally rugby related. We have done everything with ball in hand, all geared to being rugby fit plus being better equipped to score tries.”