DURBAN – It does not matter if it is the Jaguares or the Pumas, the Argentine national side. The men from South America are heralded for their physicality. It is the foundation they lay, with powerful scrums and dominating breakdowns, that lets their backs play with the ultimate freedom.
But relying so heavily on this facet of the game means that there is a target on the back of the Argentinians, and when the Jaguares arrive in Durban for this week’s crucial last clash of the groups stages, the Sharks will be ready.
The physical battle is key to any rugby game, and for a side like the Sharks that likes a bit of the rough stuff, they are gearing up to win that battle come Saturday.
Tyler Paul, the lock who has had to deputise in the absence of Stephan Lewies recently, is a player that epitomises the enjoyment of that position.
Paul is not one to be boasted about by the commentators, preferring to get stuck into the bottom of the rucks and deep into the mauls.
He makes mention how the Sharks will look to win the physical contest against the Jaguares, even if that means taking a few knocks only to come out swinging when their opposition tires.
“If the first few physical contests don’t go your way, you have to keep going, keep grinding, because you can’t throw in the towel after the first few line outs or scrums fail,” Paul explained.
“The Jaguars are an international pack and you might not break them in the first half, it might come in the second half, so it is also about keeping calm and composed in those high pressure situations.”
Paul is aware that when the Sharks traveled to Argentina to play them for the first time they did not come away with the result. However, the Jaguares will be on their home ground this time around, and the Sharks know what is on the cards.
“Going to the Jaguares is never easy,” Paul said. “The travel factor is a major influence, but don't use that as an excuse for the result there. And now they are coming here, to our home, and we can match them upfront where they are known to be strong, our back should do the job.”
For the Sharks, their fate rests in the hands of another team - namely the Highlanders who need to beat the Rebels to do the Sharks a major favour. Should the result be positive in Dunedin, then it leaves the door open for the Durban-based side to pick up four points against the Jaguares and slip into eighth spot, and into the quarter-finals.
The Sharks’ season really does come down to this final round. They will expect the Highlanders to give them a helping hand, then it is up to them to make the knockout stages, a position they have been in for the past two years - but have not advanced from.
If they do get to the quarterfinals, they will likely line up against the Crusaders in New Zealand, but in knockout rugby anything can happen, and the Sharks’ season could suddenly be one for the books.