Pietermaritzburg - The Sharks are concentrating on righting the wrongs of last season and there has been a heavy emphasis on defence and tactical kicking as they prepare for the Super Rugby season.
The Sharks finished 11th on the log last year and their defensive record — they conceded 43 tries and missed 368 tackles — was the second worst in Super Rugby while they also played without ambition and kept booting away possession.
New defence coach Omar Mouneimne said this week that the Sharks were determined to turn areas of weakness into strengths.
“Last season we really had our struggles in terms of successful tackle completion, so we’ve obviously had to look very closely at what we needed to rectify,” he told reporters.
“It’s vital that we deny the opposition quick ball and that we are very accurate in terms of our work at the breakdown on defence.
“Then it’s also vital that we make our first-time hits accurately and effectively. When you fail to do those two things, and allow the opposition to gain momentum on attack, it compromises your defensive system.”
The much-travelled Mouneimne, who worked alongside Nick Mallet when he coached Italy in 2010-11, said that Super Rugby was the most demanding of competitions.
“It’s important to be able to handle the pace and intensity of Super Rugby, and so we’ve done our best to mirror the speed of a game as much as possible in training.
“We’ve looked at the players’ conditioning and, with the fitness team here, we have done a lot of work on that. We’ve also looked to take the players out of their comfort zone at training a bit, and I must say their response and attitude has been fantastic.”
He said that the Sharks’ kicking game had to show a dramatic improvement if they were to match the New Zealand teams.
“The Sharks last year were unable to deal with the kicking pressure applied by the New Zealanders who put accurate or contestable kicks into the right areas of the field at the right time, and then look to regain possession.”
He said that all the teams would tap into similar systems but the most successful would be those who were most consistent and accurate in executing their plans.
The Sharks open their Super Rugby campaign against the Kings on February 27.