DURBAN – The Sharks have spent two difficult weeks in the Antipodes and, while results have been less than favourable, the feeling among the team is that they are a stroke of good fortune away from turning matters around.
That is the word from coach Robert du Preez, speaking from Auckland, where his team are preparing for Saturday’s match against the Blues at Eden Park, a ground at which the Sharks have been mostly successful over the years in one of those strange anomalies of Super Rugby for South African teams.
Since the advent of Super Rugby in 1996, the Sharks have won more often than they have lost in Auckland, and coach Du Preez would dearly love the city to once more be a happy hunting ground for his beleaguered team.
The Sharks lost to the Brumbies and the Rebels in their first two tour games, and after the Blues this week they have a tough assignment in Wellington against the Hurricanes.
“There are no team issues or problems of any description in our camp, not at all,” said Du Preez. “We are not the first South African team to lose their first two games on tour in this part of the world.
“It happens in rugby; the team has worked incredibly hard, and I cannot fault the effort of the players in both games.”
The coach said that the Sharks needed a strong period of play early in the game against the Blues to flick the players’ mental switch.
“We are close to hitting the form we are looking for,” Du Preez said. “This is a damn good team, a talented team, but sometimes you need a sequence of good or lucky breaks to put the team in a good space and give the players the confidence to play the quality of rugby they are so capable of.”
Du Preez said that the squad had left no stone unturned in attempting to find the spark that would ignite the latent talent in the team.
“We have had such good practice sessions, we have a good spirit, yet it is just not happening for us,” the coach said.
“Obviously we must give credit to the opposition - we have been caught out at times by some clever rugby by the Brumbies and the Rebels - but all of us know that we are so much more capable than what we have been delivering.”
So the Sharks have now crossed the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, where the going is only going to get tougher.
“Our preparation does not change. We have been preparing one game at a time since we left Durban,” Du Preez said. “We know just too well that the Blues are very dangerous if we allow them to play rugby. They have so many strike runners.
“But our big focus this week is on ourselves and doing our best to ensure we get into our stride from the first whistle.
“Not starting well has been our problem all tour, and we are focusing heavily on making sure we get good territory and possession early on, and then execute accurately.”
Du Preez said the mood among the players was one of frustration that they were not playing to their potential, and letting down their fans with the defeats.
“There is a really a good spirit. We are all in this together. The coaching staff are not pointing fingers at players; we will fix this thing together.
“I know we will,” Du Preez said.