DURBAN – It would be fair to say that the Sharks’ forwards were second best to the Bulls last Saturday as the Pretoria outfit laid a far better platform from which to win the game. It would be equally fair to say that the last time the Sharks faced the Stormers, they were also bested in the forwards.
The Sharks last welcomed the famous blue- and-white hoops to Durban in last year’s Currie Cup final where they were sitting as firm favourites, despite a late regular-season loss to Province. They had won 10 games in a row, and won the right to host the final; they were primed for some silverware.
However, it was not to be as, despite their incredible attacking talent, the Sharks were bullied off their ball at ruck and maul time, and especially in the scrum. Old chums Wilco Louw and Thomas du Toit butted heads, with the visitor the clear victor.
Philip van der Walt did not take part in that final, but says it was a bitter pill to swallow, and one that is still leaving a bad taste in the back of their throats. It is a new competition, a new year, but the two teams will not have forgotten the forward battle that went down.
“The only place where the Stormers’ performance in the Currie Cup final is really on the mind is that it was such a bitter pill to swallow. It was a Currie Cup final, they were really good at the scrum, we struggled, and we want to rectify that,” Van der Walt said before their latest meeting, this coming Saturday at 5pm.
It is more than that now though, revenge is probably long past. What will be on the Sharks’ minds, especially the forwards, is the importance of being the dominant pack this weekend, because they certainly were not against the Bulls.
“More than ever now, we are in a situation where we want to rectify it,” Van der Walt said. “We know what is coming, especially after our poor performance against the Bulls pack."
“We as forwards know we did not match up to them, so the Stormers will also use that confidence coming here from the Currie Cup final, knowing they can scrum us and drive us, but we just have to front up.
“It is an attitude thing, we are working on the technical side of it, but the errors we have made in the scrums have been more technical. We are grafting hard and hopefully we can apply pressure on them.”
The Sharks’ forwards have caught a lot of flak for the poor performances this season, primarily because their exciting backline is only functional on front-foot ball. So, when the forwards are struggling, the whole team falls flat.
Van der Walt says they are aware of it, especially with most of the experience being based in the pack. The flanker has many Super Rugby caps, and “Beast” Mtawarira holds the record for caps in Durban, although he still needs to prove his fitness after dropping out late from the Bulls match.
“It is up to us as forwards to start the fight-back,” Van der Walt said. “It is up to us to lead - and not necessarily in what we say on the field, but really in our actions."
“When it really gets tough we have to get physical, to put our bodies on the line and ignite the guys around us.
“That is where we failed a bit over this last game against the Bulls. It is definitely going to be a tough game this weekend, they will bring the same game plan in the forwards as the Bulls did - to try and out-power us, so it will depend on the leadership in the forward pack.”