DURBAN - With Saturday behind them, the Sharks will be breathing a big sigh of relief having had some luck go their way in Dunedin. They will also be happy with their 20-10 winning performance against the Jaguares that got them to eighth spot and into the quarter-finals.
But, their attention will have to quickly turn to the new challenge that awaits them, having made it to the knockouts. The Crusaders. The Kiwi team is the last New Zealand side that the Sharks need to face in their quest to prove that they have the answer to this impressive nation’s style of rugby.
The Sharks hammered the Blues in Auckland, missed out narrowly to the Hurricanes in Napier, then took down the Highlanders and Chiefs in Durban, putting on the best performance against the a collective of Kiwi teams seen all season. However, they managed to miss out an encounter with the defending champions, until now. And, the Crusaders will surely be their biggest test, especially in the quarter-finals.
The most successful team historically in the competition are finding their mojo again after saying goodbye to a few legends of the club such as Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, as well as coach Todd Blackadder. But now, under Scott Robertson, the Crusaders hold the title and this season have not slowed down at all. They have lost only two games all season, to the Highlanders and the Hurricanes, both away from home, and that was in week four and five. This means they are currently on a 12 match winning streak,
The Sharks will of course be hoping to end that streak, and surprise a lot of people, by making the semi-finals. But they will also be quietly confident based on their performances in New Zealand this year already. Furthermore, the Sharks have had some gutsy performances against the Crusaders before.
Not many will forget the historic 30-25 win in Christchurch in 2014 where the Durban-based side were reduced to 13 men for some of the game. Another small favour for the Sharks is that the Crusaders may have to be without the returning All Black captain, Kieran Read, as well as midfielder Ryan Crotty - both leaving the field early against the Blues in the last game of the season for the Saders.
But, for the Sharks, they have a few injury concerns of their own with Sbu Nkosi and Jean-Luc du Preez out of the running to make an impact in Christchurch. Glory beckons for the Sharks, should they be able to create a monumental upset.
A spot in the semi-finals will be huge vindication for the work that has been happening at Kings Park, and big reward for the Durban fans. However, a loss, and the Sharks will have replicated exactly their performance in the competition from the last two years. Finishing in eighth and being knockout at the next stage by the top ranked side.