Sharks have gone from rugby zeros to heroes
The Sharks began the season with Eduard Coetzee having taken over from Gary Teichmann at the very top of the Sharks’ hierarchy; Everitt was making his debut as head coach in Super Rugby after succeeding Robert du Preez; and the squad of players had been revamped following an exodus at the end of Super Rugby 2019.
The Sharks were expected to be spirited in 2020 but expectations in terms of results were tempered - it was felt that the Sharks would need a season to settle down before they became serious contenders.
Instead they are the toast of the competition after having played sparkling rugby to win six of their seven matches, including three on their overseas tour.
Interestingly, Everitt said on Saturday night at Jonsson Kings Park that not once has results been discussed in the camp, yet the Sharks are top of the pile.
“We had a workshop before the season started, just before the Bulls game (in round one). We asked the guys to set down their goals. We didn’t talk about where we wanted to be, and we didn’t want to talk about results.
“We wanted to see what the players wanted to get out of the season, and sometimes you forget that you might lose a final and then it becomes an unsuccessful season but you have achieved so much - so we decided to remember every week for what it was, and that is why we went the performance route because that is how you better.
“So we have not put any pressure on the players as far as results are concerned, and it just shows what can happen when players are focused on the job at hand, and they want to improve from week to week, and they want to come to training and they want to be energised ...”
Everitt took over from Du Preez last year just a week before the first round of the Currie Cup, and the Sharks lost miserably at home to Griquas - who were coached by Brent Janse van Rensburg, now Everitt’s forwards coach - so it is remarkable that in a matter of months the Sharks are now setting the pace in Super Rugby.
The Sharks recovered to make a decent fist of that Currie Cup campaign but it was in the off-season that Everitt shook things up in terms of the Sharks would play. In a four-month pre-season, he revolutionised how the Sharks defended, switching to rush defence that aimed at forcing turnover ball to feed a counter-attacking game.
Players were specifically recruited to suit this type of game - opensider James Venter (Lions), No 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Stormers) and loosehead prop Ox Nche (Cheetahs).
And with being performance-driven, Everitt wanted to emphatically address the malady of inconsistency that the Sharks had suffered from for many a season. Pre-Everitt, typically the Sharks would back-up a good performance with a curious slump, then bounce back only to follow with another dip.
“There was a certain amount of risk coming into the season with the things we had changed,” the coach said. “I didn’t think the team would get it right as quickly as they did, and they surprised me in that department.
“I think this was well summed up when had a chat last week and one of the things that Ox (Nche) came up with is that the team has been amazingly quick learners. He said the coaches only have to talk once and the players get on with it and improve, and they don’t have to repeat themselves.
“It is a team that loves playing and they prepare really, really well.”