Cape Town - Sharks coach John Plumtree has stressed the importance of winning the South African Conference as part of the main goal of winning the Super Rugby tournament.
The Sharks were beaten finalists last year, but got there the hard way after winning two away playoff games. They finished third in the SA Conference and sixth on the overall log, which meant they had to travel far and wide to reach the showpiece game.
They beat the Reds 30-17 in a playoff in Brisbane before travelling back to South Africa to face the Stormers the next week. Despite managing to upset the Capetonians 26-19
in the semi-finals at Newlands, the final proved a bridge too far as they then had to travel back to Australasia to face the Chiefs in the final in Hamilton, New Zealand.
All that travel eventually caught up with them as they were soundly beaten 37-6 by the men from Waikato. That sixth-place finish though was largely due to a slow start in the competition, something Plumtree is no doubt eager to avoid this time round.
They started their 2013 campaign well by beating the Cheetahs 29-22 in Bloemfontein last week and are looking to build on that effort when they face the Stormers in Durban on Saturday.
“It’s no secret that winning your conference means you don’t have to go through so much travel at knock-out time, we don’t want to put ourselves in the same situation we did last year," Plumtree told the Sharks website
"There were certain things that frustrated us through the year which led to that happening to us so all the talk during pre-season training has been that we want to make sure we don’t slip up when we should win and finding consistency in our game where we’re pushing for a semi.
“Which means not having to win to get a quarter-final in Australia like what we had to last year. Finishing in the top six is no mean feat, this is a tough competition, but we want to be talking about home finals, that’s where we want to go. Talk is cheap though, we have to do it on the field and I know a lot of teams are talking about doing the same thing.”
Their clash against the Stormers kicks off at 19:10 on Saturday.
15. Louis Ludik, 14. JP Pietersen
, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Francois Steyn
(captain), 11. Lwazi Mvovo
, 10. Patrick Lambie
, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Ryan Kankowski
, 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Marcell Coetzee
, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Meyer Bosman
, 22. Odwa NdunganeStormers:
15. Joe Pietersen
, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Bryan Habana
, 10. Elton Jantjies
, 9. Nic Groom, 8. Duane Vermeulen
(vice-captain), 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 6. Siya Kolisi
, 5. Andries Bekker
, 4. De Kock Steenkamp, 3. Frans
Malherbe, 2. Deon Fourie, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Pat Cilliers, 18. Don Armand, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Peter Grant
, 22. Gerhard van den Heever