DURBAN – Playing without inhibition and free of the weight of expectation is the key to the Sharks beating the Lions at Jonsson Kings Park on Saturday in a crucial Super Rugby derby.
This sounds ironic given that the pressure is on the Sharks to win all four of their remaining games if they are to have a hope of topping the South African conference.
With the log jammed as it is, every game is vital, with only two or three points between all the teams in the conference, but centre Andre Esterhuizen argues that pressure is a killer.
“We know the importance of every single game but we are not putting pressure on ourselves; that is dangerous. We must rather go out to enjoy it and play for each other,” the burly midfielder said. “I think playing with freedom is how you get the result.”
The Sharks were dreadful in their two pre-tour home games - the home losses to the Jaguares and Reds - but when they were overseas and away from the critical public eye, they got their act together and produced positive performances.
“We took the pressure off ourselves on tour and it worked for us,” Esterhuizen said. “We did some good bonding and chose to go out and enjoy ourselves and let the results take care of themselves. We thrived on tour and now coming back to Durban, we feel that trip has given us a lot to build on.”
The Sharks have generally been good against overseas opposition only to be mostly poor against SA opposition. They have beaten the Rebels, Blues, Sunwolves and Waratahs, and drawn with the Crusaders in Christchurch, but have lost at home to the Stormers and home and away to the Bulls.
“I think it is a mindset thing that we play well against overseas teams but struggle against the local sides and it has to be fixed,” Esterhuizen said. “We can’t be reserving our best for the overseas teams.
We have to play to the same standard against the SA teams as well. This has to become a priority. It is not like we don’t want to beat them... It is about getting our mental approach right.
It is also about ignoring the previous result against the Lions, the emphatic 42-5 win on the highveld.
“That win was fantastic for us but it will count for nothing on Saturday,” Esterhuizen warned. “It is a new game, anything can happen and we have seen how dangerous the Lions can be on a given day.
They have scored a lot of tries. They have been a bit like us, one game up one game down, so we have to prepare for anything.”@MikeGreenaway