DURBAN – The Sharks will hopefully pull off a miracle in Christchurch this morning or be glorious in defeat.
But whatever transpires against the Crusaders, there has to be a long hard look at their inconsistency in Super Rugby this season.
Sharks supporters have been on a roller-coaster since February that has seen them jubilant one week and downcast the next, and sometimes both in one match.
And the Sharks themselves will privately know that their inability to build momentum through the season should have cost them a playoff spot.
It is an inequity of the convoluted Conference system that a team can lose more games than they have won and still make the quarter-finals (the Sharks had lost eight, drawn one and won seven going into today’s match).
The season started positively at Ellis Park when, although the match was lost against the Lions, the Sharks played good rugby and could easily have won.
Round two, though, saw the Waratahs leave Kings Park thrilled to have been gifted a share of the spoils.
The Sunwolves visited the following week and the Sharks were clinical in dispatching the Japanese side 50-22 on the eve of their four-match trip to Australia and New Zealand.
By now the hot-cold pattern had been established, and it was prominent on a Jekyll-and-Hyde tour on which the Sharks were terrible in Australia and excellent in New Zealand.
They were sloppy in going down 24-17 to the Brumbies in Canberra and then atrocious in copping 46 points from the Rebels in Melbourne, only for a week later to rebound with a brilliant display against the Blues.
They beat the Aucklanders 64-40 and followed it up in Wellington with their best performance of the season to date, albeit in a loss.
The Hurricanes sneaked home 38-37 when they scored a try after the hooter and with the last move of the match.
The Sharks were exceptional in that match in round eight, but never again replicated that polished exhibition of total rugby.
And the giddy heights reached in that match were followed just seven days later by a dizzying plunge through the cellar at Kings Park, when they were thumped 40-10 by the Bulls.
It left fans scratching their heads in confusion. The travel back from New Zealand was probably responsible in part for the jaded performance. But, to the tune of 40 points?
In keeping with their season, the Sharks responded with a gutsy home win over the Stormers to take them into their bye round, and the break brought out a strong performance the next week when they smashed the Highlanders 38-12.
Disappointment followed in the return match against the Bulls in Pretoria; the Sharks were then much better in beating the Chiefs in Durban, but then were poor in Buenos Aires against the Jaguares.
The Sharks were still in charge of their own destiny in terms of the playoffs when they went into the June break.
And in their first game back, they were well on track when they dug deep on defence to fashion a dogged comeback win over the Lions at Kings Park.
And then came a major disappointment at Newlands in the error-riddled loss to the Stormers.
Last week the Sharks were unimpressive, but did the job against the Jaguares to creep into the quarter-finals through the back door.
Which brought us to this morning’s big match…
Whatever goes down against the Crusaders, the Sharks will know they were very fortunate to be there.
Super Rugby seldom gives teams second chances, and the Sharks won’t be so lucky again if they continue to be inconsistent.