Alistair Hargreaves

High stakes as playoffs loom

2011-05-31 14:23
Sport24 columnist Alistair Hargreaves (File)
Alistair Hargreaves

With the knockout stages of the Super Rugby tournament creeping ever closer, the race to fill the coveted top six spots is really heating up.

The top four sides seem at this stage to be sitting quite comfortably, guarding their positions atop the table. Meanwhile, its absolute trench warfare between ourselves, the Bulls, Waratahs, and Highlanders for the remaining two slots.

The Highlanders loss, owing to a terrific comeback by the Lions, might just prove to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of their playoff aspirations. That result certainly gave us plenty to play for against the Waratahs last Saturday.

At the end of a nail-biting game, we registered our first victory over the Sydney based franchise since 2007.

There was speculation in the build up to the game regarding ‘win at all costs’ rugby. Phrases such as ‘ugly’ rugby were used repetitively and debate raged as to the right approach we should employ ahead of a must-win encounter.

Ultimately, however ugly the rugby might have been, the objective was achieved and we managed to pull through with four points and thus keep our play-off aspirations alive.

With another solid display by the Bulls at Loftus, one point now separates each team from position five to eight on the overall log standings. We have 47, Waratahs 46, Bulls 45, and Highlanders 44. The Crusaders, who are in fourth position, are only two points above us.

The stage is thus set for a dramatic climax to the ‘group’ stages of the tournament, especially considering that the Bulls must still play both the Sharks and the Waratahs, whilst the fixture on June 11 sees the Waratahs tackle the Highlanders in Sydney.

And with every new week that arrives, so too does a fresh challenge. This week’s test will be against a Cheetahs side on the upward curve, who relish the task of tackling their local foes.

They have shown their ability to play world-class rugby in arguably their best Super Rugby season to date and home ground advantage will go a long way in motivating them.

From a Sharks perspective, there is everything to play for and with the end in sight; this fixture should live up to the usual hype that accompanies local derbies in South Africa.

The set pieces will be vital, as will the physicality at the contact areas.

Gaining momentum with ball in hand will be key to providing the respective backlines with quick ball, and as always in tight fixtures such as these, the defensive efforts of the teams might just prove to be the decisive factor in a fixture that could quite possibly go right down to the wire.

Championship-winning teams perform under pressure. This was never more evident than in the Aviva Premiership final between Saracens and Leicester last Saturday.

Sarries defended their four point lead for 30+ phases during a full eight minutes of extra time to be crowned Premiership Champions.

It is this kind of determination, dedication and desperation to win that saw them triumph and it will be the selfsame qualities that determine which teams will make it through to the final phase of Super Rugby.

Alistair Hargreaves was educated at Durban High School and captained the SA Schools side in 2004. Besides being a stalwart in the Sharks' second row, he's also played two Tests for the Springboks.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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