DURBAN - How good are the Sharks? We will have an answer after Saturdy's big Super Rugby derby against the Bulls at Kings Park (kick-off at 5.15pm).
The Sharks did a 180 degree turn on tour in turning mediocre performances in Australia into startling attacking play against the Blues and the Hurricanes. But have they flattered to deceive or do we now have the real deal?
The reality is that the Sharks have two home games now in a row before their bye, and it these home games (the Stormers visit Kings Park next week) that will make or break their challenge.
Nobody needs to tell Robert du Preez and his coaching staff of the significance of winning these two home games against teams in their conference, which makes the log points all the more vital.
“It is a big SA derby. It is going to be war out there, that is for sure,” Du Preez said. “There is a lot riding on this game, but we have to stick to our plan and be efficient and accurate in executing that plan.”
Du Preez said that while both teams play similar rugby, with forwards and backs looking to offload and attack rather than take unnecessary contact, the Sharks will adapt and do whatever it takes to win the game.
“You want to score tries in this tournament, which is a big objective for us in our bid to win games, but winning is more important, and if we have to fight in the trenches, that is what we will do,” Du Preez said.
The coach was sounding positively Churchillian as his team enter this hectic fortnight of Durban derbies before a bye which at this stage must look like a distant oasis in the desert for the tired players.
“We have to make the best of the situation,” Du Preez said. “The guys have been fantastic. After two weeks in Australia they really turned it around. And the team spirit is very high as a result. It is tough to come back from a month overseas and then have a fortnight of huge local derbies, but it is what it is and the boys are really up for the challenge.”
We caught up with Kobus van Wyk after today's training session to find out more about the preparations and mood in #OurSharks camp going into this weekend's local derby clash.#SHAvBUL #OurSharksForever pic.twitter.com/48DdWRvRcH
For the third consecutive week, Du Preez has named the same starting line-up, but there are two important changes on the bench.
One of them is the return of No 8 Daniel du Preez, who is on the bench, and there is now every chance that the three Du Preez brothers could be on the Kings Park pitch at the same time. It has not yet happened.
Daniel will have a hard family act to follow given how well his brothers played in New Zealand.
The other change on the bench is Akker van der Merwe for Franco Marias, with Chiliboy Ralepelle continuing to get the nod at hooker.
Du Preez said that starting line-up had taken shape after all players were given a run in the first month of the competition and in the two matches in Australia.
“After the heavy loss to the Rebels, I said: ‘fixing this thing starts with me’. I have to look at myself first and foremost. I have to take that responsibility, and quite right,” Du Preez said.
“As a coaching staff we first looked at ourselves before we pointed fingers at the players. We all decided as a big family to sort it out together and that is what we have done.
“I don’t think the effort was there against the Brumbies, I just felt that was not good enough; then against the Rebels I thought the effort was there but the execution was poor. Then obviously against the Blues we got the effort and the accuracy right.”
Du Preez said that the Springbok players in the pack had stepped up and shown their colours.
“First and foremost , the Beast was immense, he is playing the best rugby of his career,” the coach said. “Chiliboy at hooker has had a massive impact on our tight five. With him and the Beast playing so well, it made it so much easier for Thomas du Toit to settle down at tighthead.”