Gavin Rich - SuperSport.com
Durban - In the past he's been criticised occasionally for a perception that he was prone to being conservative but Sharks coach Robert du Preez has made no secret of his team’s attacking intent ahead of the new Super Rugby season.
The Sharks’ coaching team was joined in the off-season by David Williams, who was understood to be the brains behind the great attacking play produced by the Southern Kings in their last season of Super Rugby before switching to the PRO14.
Williams left the Kings after that great finish to the 2017 season, which included a win over the Sharks in Port Elizabeth as well as an exciting win over the Bulls in Pretoria.
The Kings played with great attacking shape and were also excellent in transitioning from defence to attack, and Williams has arrived in Durban with the task of doing the same to the Sharks that he did to the team from Port Elizabeth.
By the accounts of those who are close to the Sharks camp, Williams has already made a big impact, and Du Preez was happy with the improvements he felt were evident in his team’s attacking game in the Super Hero clash with the Lions in Cape Town.
“I think everyone would have seen it in the game against the Lions. Although we lost that game, we had at least four or five more try scoring opportunities and I was encouraged by how much we created,” said Du Preez.
“What he (Williams) has brought is a lot of clarity. Everyone knows what their role is. As I say we could have scored more tries, and that is what the aim will be this season, to score four tries in every game.”
That will be pleasing news to long suffering Sharks fans who at times in recent years have questioned whether their province/franchise has moved too far from the reputation that was built around the running rugby philosophy of the legendary late Izak van Heerden, who coached Natal in the 1960s.
Of course winning is the name of the game in the professional era and the Sharks have achieved remarkable success, comparatively speaking with what came before, since they won their first Currie Cup title in their centenary year, 1990. However, there have been seasons where the Kings Park faithful have cried out for a more rounded attacking game, and last week’s match at the Cape Town Stadium might have been a small but significant first step in that direction.
Du Preez confirmed that the first part of the match against the Bulls this weekend again is a dress-rehearsal for the season, which starts with a potentially perilous trip to Singapore to play the Sunwolves a week later.
“The plan is to potentially look at the team that starts on Saturday as the one that will start against the Sunwolves, so yes, it is a dress rehearsal,” he said on Wednesday.
“We will start with the intended starting team and then bring the other guys on. Obviously there were guys who didn’t travel to Cape Town with us who need game-time before the season starts. We will have two full teams and we intend giving everyone a run. When we are finished every player involved in the pre-season would have played. That will be great for the guys and will be just reward for the hard work they have all put in during the pre-season.”
Du Preez, like his Stormers counterpart Robbie Fleck, is in an upbeat mood because of the lack of injury problems in the final build-up to the new season.
“We pretty much have everyone on strength except for Philip van der Walt, who is out with a contusion picked up in Japan and will probably be ready to play in four weeks or so. JL (Jean-Luc du Preez) is also out for about two months,” said the Sharks coach.
Du Preez said he expected the Bulls to travel to the KZN north coast with a full strength side and he welcomed the intensity lift that his team has experienced so far in comparison to the warm-up games they have played in recent seasons.
“The Bulls game will be tough, but that’s exactly what we need. We need game fitness and good contact conditioning and we will get that against the Bulls.”
Although the Sunwolves have tended to finish near the bottom of the log since joining the competition as the Japanese entry a few years back, Du Preez said he was not underestimating his team’s first opponents.
“The Sunwolves are an incredibly strong and efficient team when they play in Singapore and Tokyo,” Du Preez warned.
One thing that the Sharks might have in their favour is that the humid conditions in Singapore may not be as alien to Du Preez’s charges as they might be for other teams because the Sharks have been building up to the new season in the intense humidity of the KwaZulu/Natal summer. And Ballito, about 50 kilometres north of Durban, is even more humid at this time of year than the venue where they do most of their training and playing.
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