DURBAN – Any cautious betting man would assess the situation that is facing the Sharks and quickly shy away from backing them for a win, unless it was a Hail Mary call.
The odds literally are stacked against them, from history to for, and venue - everybody is writing the Sharks off.
However, assistant coach Dick Muir believes that it is not such a bad scenario as the pressure is easing off the shoulders of the Sharks.
This was seen when the Durban side performed terribly against the Brumbies and the Rebels, but then shone against the Blues and Hurricanes.
No one gave the Sharks a chance against the Blues, and especially not against the Hurricanes, and they took that as a challenge.
“There is a lot of excitement in the camp,” Muir said. “The preparation has been phenomenal, and we have also had some great weather. The mood is good and the guys are getting ready for it because no one is really giving us a chance and that is not a bad position to be in.”
If the Sharks are able to defy the odds and turn over the Crusaders, it will be a historical first. No South African team has defeated a Kiwi one on home soil in the knockouts, and it will be an underdog story of eighth beating first on the log. The Crusaders have lost two games all season, while the Sharks have lost eight, more than they have won.
While such a win would be an amazing story for the competition, it would also be vindication for a Sharks side that is trying to turn the corner after a few years of aimless wandering.
The Sharks have managed to get basically a full starting team into the Springbok set-up, having unearthed and polished a few gems, however, they have struggled to get the results.
So, a win, according to Muir, will be vital for the union.
“There are high expectations from the players and we are now in the business end of the season so there is no excuses anymore,” the assistant coach said. “There has been a lot of hard work put in this season, from the management and everybody else, so to win with everything against us would be phenomenal.”
But at the same time, the Sharks are not under any illusion of the challenge that faces them. The Crusaders were brilliant in earning the Super Rugby title last season, and they have not taken their foot off the gas since.
“The Crusaders are top of the log for a reason,” Muir added. “When you see them in any game, they like to make their presence felt with the brand of rugby they play.
“They have a great coaching set-up, and some excellent players.”