DURBAN - Sharks captain Ruan Botha has called on his troops to lift their game at Eden Park on Saturday (8.35am kick-off, SA time) because the going is about to get a whole tougher in New Zealand, he said.
“If you look at our tour, with respect, the so-called easier games against the Brumbies and Rebels are behind us now, and we lost both of them,” he said. “We want to be swimming not sinking, and the challenge is going to get more difficult against the Blues, and then the Hurricanes next week.
“The important thing is that the heads have not dropped and we have got closer as a team because we are very keen to deliver for ourselves and our fans.
“We have a great spirit and are training with so much energy. We have to transfer that into the first kick-off and not get into a struggle to get going (as has been the problem in the first two tour matches).
“I am eager to see what we can deliver on Saturday because the hunger is there.”
Botha said the time for excuses was over, especially among the forwards.
“We as a forward pack have not played to our standards yet, so we are focusing hard on taking excuses out of our game, on focusing on the plan and sticking to it,” he said.
“I am still learning a few things about leadership, about managing my game and leading. It is a learning curve.”
Centre Lukhanyo Am said the team were positive they could get the result at Eden Park provided they did not panic.
He said the team should resist trying too hard.
“We have the intent and that is the main thing. We just need to be patient and not put unnecessary pressure on ourselves, because that is where the mistakes have been coming in,” he said.
“We need to play our hearts out but be calm at how we execute matters.”
Am said that the Blues would be different from the Brumbies and the Rebels in that they play a more open game than the Australian teams. The Blues are known for their cavalier approach under coach Tana Umaga, who looks to exploit the natural athleticism in his team.
“They like their open-style rugby so we need to keep it structured to a degree. We want to attack, too, but we can’t let it get too loose,” Am said.
“That would play into their hands. The plan is there for us to attack but to not force the passes. We are not far off."
“We just need to polish a few details. We need to keep cool heads and be patient rather than force the issue. It is a case of fine-tuning here and there and we will start winning games. The margins are small. We are close, and once we get going we know we can play some great rugby.”
Am said the players were aware of the growing frustration among their fans in South Africa, but said nobody was more frustrated than the players themselves.
“We must just stick to our guns, we must not panic. If we just get those little things right, like a pass that should not be forced that leads to a turnover, or a pass that should go sooner that could lead to a try, the performance can turn around quickly, especially as the confidence grows.”