DURBAN – The Sharks have shown they have the key to unpicking New Zealand sides ahead of what is turning out to be an integral game against the Highlanders on Saturday at Kings Park.
They have done it before, on Kiwi soil, but they will have to do it at home if they are to stand a chance of making the playoffs.
It is not only the Stormers and Bulls who are in the hunt for second spot in the African Conference, with the Lions miles ahead in first as suddenly the Jaguares have woken from their slumber to be a real threat.
Currently, the Argentinian side sit second behind the Lions thanks to five wins on the trot.
This is the same Jaguares side which other teams only took seriously when crossing the Atlantic Ocean on their way to South America, as the Argentinians were famed for being Big Cats at home, but pussycats on the road.
Now they have made it a full house of wins in Australia and New Zealand, beating the Brumbies, Rebels, Blues and Chiefs back-to-back, putting a real marker down on their credentials for playoff rugby.
The Sharks, on the other hand, are way down in last spot on the African log, but are well aware that a win today against the Highlanders (5.15pm kickoff) will not only catapult them towards the summit, but also give them such much-needed momentum after the bye.
Wishing Thomas du Toit a very Happy Birthday today!🎉 pic.twitter.com/9wEFQm8rFY
The bye has come at a good stage for the Sharks though, says captain Ruan Botha.
“It is almost like getting a second breath at this part of the campaign,” Botha said.
“Coming back, seeing the guys again after a week off, and being with them, has brought a lot of energy. We are really focused for the weekend.”
Coach Robert du Preez has not let the magnitude of winning this game, and plenty more as the season draws to a close, slip by him.
“For us it is a game that is at home, and we need to win our home games,” Du Preez said.
“This is going to be a massive game for us, they would have taken a lot out of their performance against the Bulls – they are a good team.
“But we are here to win, we have to win this game.”
The Sharks will be buoyed by the return of one of their all-time legends, Tendai Mtawarira, the veteran prop recovering from a groin injury that kept him out of the past two games against the Bulls and Stormers.
Winning is vital for the Sharks now.
They had an instance where they played some beautiful and dominant rugby, but lost against the Hurricanes in Napier, so they need to be aware of that lesson.
Marius Louw, who is on the bench for this one, says winning ugly is never the means, but it may be the end.
“No one really likes an ugly win, but at this stage, we will take it as it is quite congested in the log. We will take any win,” the centre added.
Botha also harked back a little to that game in Napier where the Sharks were pipped in the 84th minute by the Canes, in a similar vein to the way in which the Bulls lost out to a late penalty against today’s opponents.
“You cannot stop until the final whistle has blown, so you have to fight, even if it goes for 90 or 100 minutes.
“You have to keep fighting right till the end because they will keep knocking until they get what they want,” Botha concluded.