Durban - The freedom of expression that coach Robert du Preez has given to his young team will face an interesting test when the Cell C Sharks travel to Cape Town this weekend to face Western Province.
Newlands has been an up and down venue for the Sharks so it would be understandable if the older hands in the side – not that there are many – don’t quite know what to expect. For instance, it has been the scene of some quite emphatic defeats, but it was also the venue where the Sharks won the 2013 Currie Cup final against the odds, as well as a Super Rugby semifinal in 2012. And they won against the Stormers the last time they played there, back in March.
But the fact that previous Sharks teams have won in the inhospitable Newlands environment only makes it more of a challenge for outstanding newcomers Curtis Bosch and Inny Radebe to hold their nerve and pass the litmus test that the pressure of the occasion will provide.
Both players were good in the win over the Blue Bulls in Durban last weekend, and that game was described as a big test beforehand. It was the first that the Sharks played against a team from a traditionally strong big union, with the three wins they had scored before that coming against the Pumas, Griquas and Boland.
The timing of the Sharks delivery against the Bulls was perfect. New chief executive Gary Teichmann addressed the crowd before kick-off, and asked for some patience for the young side to develop. He promised that there could be something special coming from the Sharks if they are allowed to develop like the Lions team that has performed so well under Johan Ackermann recently has done.
The Sharks team is young. Take away a few of the old stagers at the back such as Odwa Ndungane and the average age is in the low 20s. Bosch, the stand-out performer in the Bulls game, is just a year out of school and flyhalf Radebe, who moved to pivot in the opening game against the Pumas in Nelspruit once it had been established Bosch might be better off at fullback for now, is only 21.
As one should do when coaching a young team, Du Preez has told his men that mistakes will happen, and Cape Town will be a test of their bold spirit and willingness to try things, particularly as Province are still smarting from their home defeat to the Cheetahs two weeks ago. The hosts have already dropped two games (they also lost away to the Bulls) and know they can’t afford another slip.
“Province have not had the best start to the Currie Cup but they got back on the winning track again (against the Kings) and will come hard at us,” said Radebe.
“I think what was vital for us was that we held out the Bulls last week. That gave us confidence. They could have taken the game in the last quarter but we held firm, and that has given us a boost. We’ll need that in Cape Town.”
However, while it will pose a stiff challenge, Radebe is adamant the Sharks will continue to try and express themselves and be adventurous in the way that their coach intends them to be.
“The coach wants to take us down the road of running rugby and he has given us license to attack,” he said.
“He has told us that mistakes will happen as we embrace this style of rugby but he has backed us to give it a full go, while trying to become more efficient each week.”
Radebe said he’d hoped to get game time for the Sharks senior team in Super Rugby this year but an untimely knee cartilage injury prevented him from doing so.
“I think it has worked out for me though and I am pleased that I have played in all the various Sharks age-group teams before working my way into the Currie Cup side. It has enabled me to mature at a good pace,” he added.
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