Durban - The Sharks have long been renowned for their tendency to produce their best once the chips are down, and although the current group is much changed from the one that used to thrive on pressure during the John Plumtree era, they will need to rediscover that old spirit in what is shaping as a tough second half to the Absa Currie Cup season.
According to the supersport.com website, the Sharks go to Bloemfontein this weekend for a match against the Free State Cheetahs that will see both teams in a desperate mood. After their home loss to the Pumas last week, the Cheetahs are outside of the top four, while the Sharks are only just clinging to a place in the semifinal bracket.
Both teams are a considerable distance behind log leaders Western Province, who are nine points clear of the Sharks and 11 ahead of the Cheetahs. So already the chances of either clinching a home final this year are looking slim, and a defeat for either at the weekend will mean a tough task to qualify for the play-offs, with the Vodacom Blue Bulls starting to find their momentum and poised to move into the top four.
Although the Pumas, who the Sharks played twice and lost to once, have been the surprise package of the season so far and are lying second on the log, the first half of the season did shape up as much easier than the second half. At least that was in theory, for it is only now that they start to regularly bump into the bigger unions.
The Cheetahs have always been a tough opponent for the Sharks in Bloemfontein, and after that they have games against the Golden Lions, the Blue Bulls and an away fixture against WP to look forward to. It goes without saying that they are going to have to improve considerably on their recent performances if they are to beat any of those teams, with the defeats to the Pumas and Griquas not being that surprising given how poor they were in games before that.
In the Kings Park match against Griquas it did look as though the Sharks had started to lose their aura for visiting teams, and if opposing sides are going to lose their fear of the Sharks, it doesn’t augur well for the remaining five games of the regular season. However, it is often when success is less expected that the Sharks hit the winning trail, and coach Brad Macleod-Henderson will be hoping for that to remain true of his beleaguered charges.
“Another win to add to the three we have would have made us a lot happier (after the first half of the league phase),” said Macleod-Henderson.
“We certainly had opportunities to win the game on the weekend and we didn’t, which is disappointing. We’ve had quite a few guys come through and show us what they can do, it’s a work in progress, and now that we’re at the halfway point, we would like to finish the second half better than we have the first half.
“This is a short, concise tournament, 10 games and it is over pretty quickly, so you can’t really dwell on the past for too long. But at the same time, if you are in a bit of a dip, you have to make sure you get out quickly and get back to your winning ways.”
The coach recognises the magnitude of the immediate obstacle that lies in front of his team, for while the Cheetahs have been as poor as the Sharks have this season, they do tend to raise their game when they play the Durbanites. And they were unfortunate not to beat the Sharks in the Kings Park game a couple of weeks ago, a match which the Cheetahs led for most of the way.
“It’s quite congested around the middle of the log, we’re in fourth place but the Cheetahs trail us by just two points. They have plenty of threats, they play with a lot of width to their game and Sarel Pretorius at scrumhalf is always dangerous. They have quite a good lineout too, so we are going to have to play well to win.”
The Sharks have suffered another in a sequence of blows at second row forward ahead of the trip to Bloemfontein, with it being confirmed that lock Wiehan Hay, who made his debut against Griquas, will be out for a minimum of three weeks with the AC joint injury that forced him off in the 35th minute.