With the opportunity for intense introspection during the Sharks’ long-awaited bye this week, the Durban team will need to quickly re-assess what can still be salvaged from a Super Rugby season that has been derailed by three successive losses.
Having slipped to yet another disappointing defeat, this time against the Bulls, the Sharks remain in ninth place on the overall log, with their play-off hopes hanging by a thread.
In fact, considering the Sharks have played one more game than most teams, and are now set to head off on a challenging overseas tour, their prospects of somehow progressing to the knockout stage look extremely bleak.
It’s for this reason that deflated director of rugby Gary Gold intimated that the matter of regaining respect and pride was now a major priority over the final stages of their campaign.
“There is still a lot to salvage. It’s all fair and well sitting here saying I’m still proud of the guys and the effort, but at the end of the day it’s results that count, and we need to start getting some results.
“We need to show the amazing Sharks supporters that we can continue to stay in the fight, and as bitterly disappointed as I am at the moment, the worst thing we can do now is roll over. We’re not going to do that, and there is a huge amount still to be gained. One of them is to go away and against the odds hopefully get a couple of victories that nobody will expect we can.”
The Sharks will have the challenge of taking on the Highlanders, Hurricanes, Waratahs and Reds on tour, but they are set to welcome back key players such as Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn from suspension, and a couple more from injury.
Yet the real frustration for the Sharks will be the fact that they have left themselves with almost too much to do at a stage when they could have now been looking forward to receiving some much-needed reinforcements.
“The guys who will be coming back from suspension owe us – and those are their words not mine – and so I’m looking forward to seeing how they’re going to elevate our environment and make us get even better,” Gold commented. “Tours are funny, I’ve seen teams in far worse positions manage to fight back, and I’m not giving up the fight in any way, shape or form.”
Gold said he also knew he was going to continue learning about the character and nature of his players during these trying times.
“I’m really keen to work with these guys in such adverse times – that’s when you see true warriors come out. We are down but we’re not out, and now is the time to stand up and fight back. We can still salvage a lot from the season, we may or may not make the play-offs, but if we come back fighting in the last six games, we’ll salvage a lot of respect, and that’s what it’s about, we’ve got a lot of respect to regain.”
Yet in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s defeat, Gold admitted the change-room had been extremely sombre.
“You just feel that a good result would have reignited the confidence and paid the guys back for the hard work and effort they’ve put in. I’ve just got to say that I know a lot of people and critics will be angry, but I can’t fault the players and their attitude. I really appreciate how hard they’re trying in tough circumstances when you effectively have nine Springboks unavailable at the moment.”
The Sharks will now have a few days off before reconvening and then flying out to Australia on Saturday.