DURBAN - The Sharks returned from their four-week Antipodean tour in better shape than when they left and with every reason to believe they can go onto lofty heights in the competition, according to coach Robert du Preez.
The Sharks grew incrementally better as their tour progressed. They were disappointing in Australia against the Brumbies and the Rebels but then flicked a mental switch in Auckland to smash the Blues. Then at the weekend, they came within a whisker of upsetting the Hurricanes in Napier, losing 38-37.
“Our performance was a big step up from the Blues game, so we are very pleased with that,” Du Preez said. “We did everything we could to win the game and came agonisingly close. There was a lot of disappointment because the guys gave their all.”
Each team scored four tries and in total the Sharks scored 100 points in two games on New Zealand soil, which is no mean feat.
“Everybody played well, including the bench, but we leaked two soft tries that I am not happy about and then we could not close the game out, despite having all the opportunities to do so,” Du Preez admitted.
“We will take a hard look at our play in the late stages of the game. We really should not have put ourselves in a position to concede that match-winning try.”
In the South African conference, the Sharks (14 points) are second to the Lions (25) but have a game in hand over the Joburg team who are also still to tour Australasia.
Having said that, the fourth-placed Bulls (9) have played one game less than the Sharks, and two less than the Lions, and with a a series of home derbies coming up, the SA Conference could change.
The Bulls also have their tour out of the way.
The Sharks host the Bulls on Saturday in a massive game for both sides. The Durbanites will be desperate to build on their good form in New Zealand and nail this derby as well as next week’s clash with the Stormers, also at Kings Park.
It could be a season-defining fortnight for the Sharks.
The Bulls, refreshed after a bye last week, can close the gap on the Sharks to one log point or even draw level with the Sharks if they win with a bonus point, and keep the Sharks from registering a log point.
In many ways, the pressure will be on the Sharks this week as they look to turn the narrow defeat to the Hurricanes into a home victory over the Bulls.
After the Stormers match in Durban, the Sharks have a bye week and then host the Highlanders in Durban.