Durban - Cell C Sharks Director of Rugby Jake White
has given a thumbs’ up to his team’s four match tour, coming home with three wins and 13 log points, the best effort of any South African side this year, Sharks website
editor Michael Marnewick
“When we left, I was asked how many games we wanted to win, what would be a pass mark?” he recounts. “My message at the time was that we had to try and win every single game. That wasn’t trying to be presumptuous or arrogant at all, we just needed to make sure that we prepared for every game.”
The first game on tour, against the Rebels, followed their first home loss of the season, to the Highlanders. Fortunately the team managed to turn it around immediately. They suffered a narrow loss to the Brumbies the second week on tour, before following those games up with consecutive - some might suggest unlikely - victories over the Crusaders and Blues.
“To get three wins and a loss against the Brumbies that could have gone either way, sets us up nicely and an opportunity still to control our destiny,” said White. “If we win our remaining three games, we can have a home semi-final and a home final and we know the importance of having that, based on results not only in this tournament but the last few playoff games over the years - home ground plays a massive role.”
While the great results suggest a lot of hard work while touring, White had spoken before they departed of the need to find a balance, and when they weren’t preparing, they were going to enjoy themselves.
“We did have fun and that showed in the way we played. Some guys surfed, others played golf, some got out and saw different things, explored. For me, it was everything we set out to do - we were going to prepare as well as we could, play as well as we could, but also, have fun. Some of the comments made by the players - and I know it’s obviously easier when you’ve won-– was that this was one of the best tours they’d been on and one of the most successful. It felt like the shortest tour even though it was still four weeks, because things were broken up a bit.”
And reflecting on the final tour game, against the Blues, White explained that there were very real concerns before they extended their run to 10 wins in succession over the Auckland side.
“That was always going to be the difficult game, because everyone knows and everyone says that the Blues are one game away from turning it on. They are a team that if everything sticks, can beat you by 50 points. That’s why you get nervous, because of the kind of players they have in their team.
“Although you might be in control of the game, they can score literally three tries in five minutes. I was always nervous. It was also a bit personal for me because in my first year with the Brumbies, we didn’t even have to win to go through to the playoffs and the Blues were last on the New Zealand conference with nothing to play for, and they beat us by 14 points in the final pool match and we failed to qualify.”
It was an interesting weekend of results that also played into the Sharks' hands, and an absolute dogfight for places. As the log currently stands, there are nine, potentially 10, teams all fighting it out for a top six finish.
“In one weekend, teams that were right up there, like the Brumbies and Chiefs, dropped to sixth and seventh on the log,” White pointed out. “For me, that just shows how small the margins are and if you get it wrong, you can fall out. The most important thing about this comp is when you can control your own destiny. You don’t have to worry about this team beating that team, or bonus points; you just have to keep winning. As much as I talk about it and keep re-emphasising it, it showed this weekend. The log at the start and then at the end of the weekend looks completely different.”
In terms of picking up any injuries, White has confirmed that the side is in good health ahead of Saturday’s showdown with the Stormers at Kings Park (19:10 kick-off).
“We’re 100%, which is fantastic. At this point in time, it looks like everyone is available from the Blues game, we have some players at the Bok camp and we have to hold thumbs that no-one gets injured there, but at this point in time, going into the last round before the June break, we’re looking quite positive.”
White will also be hoping for the return to action of flank Marcell Coetzee
who is currently at the Bok camp, although he hasn’t managed to meet with him as yet.