Sharks desperate at start of crucial fortnight
Durban - The Sharks players have returned to training after their week off with just the right level of desperation as they look forward to what has become a must win Super Rugby clash with the Melbourne Rebels at Kings Park on Saturday.
According to SuperSport.com, it's actually a critical fortnight for the Sharks. Although they have lost ground in the South African conference battle after two successive derby defeats, it is still early in the competition and the conference log is log-jammed.
Although the Sharks are fourth in the conference, they only trail the Bulls, Stormers and Lions, all locked together at the top, by two points. And the Lions have now played one game more than them.
However, coach Robert du Preez has always underlined the importance of winning home games if you want to do well in the competition, and after dropping their last Kings Park clash with the Stormers, they need to make sure of a win against the Rebels on Saturday and then the all-important return derby against the Bulls at the same venue the following week or they will fall too far behind.
It won't be easy, with the Bulls being the form team among the South African contenders so far, and the Rebels no doubt desperate to atone for their bizarre defeat to the Lions in Johannesburg this past weekend. The Rebels led 33-5 at one stage before losing 36-33. They are well coached by South African Dave Wessels, they have a superb halfback pairing comprising Will Genia and the revitalised Quade Cooper, and are an intelligent team. There won't be an altitude bogey to trip them up in Durban either.
But then the Sharks, as assistant coach Ricardo Loubscher has pointed out, are also desperate, and he reckons the players have come back to training fully aware that this is a massive week for them.
"The guys returned to have their one-on-ones with the coaches and you could sense a desperation among them to win this week," said Loubscher.
"The boys can't wait to get back on the field in front of their home crowd. There is a good vibe and a feeling that we need to set the record straight after two losses."
Of course it is not just up to the players, and it was pleasing to learn that the coaches have apparently taken some responsibility for the successive defeats to the Stormers and Bulls, two games where the Sharks were as much out-thought as they were out-muscled.
"As coaches we had our meetings last week to come up with a plan to get back on the winning trail. We looked at where it went wrong in those two big derbies with the Stormers and the Bulls. Both those sides put us under huge pressure by putting the ball in behind us and then capitalising on our mistakes.
"There were also big moments when we were under pressure that we didn't handle well. So there has been a lot of introspection and soul searching, not to mention hard work behind the scenes."
Loubscher added that it was difficult to know whether the Sharks' bye came at the right time for them.
"We will find out on the weekend if the bye was what we needed after two very physical SA derbies," he said.
"Ideally after a loss you want to fix it as soon as possible but at the same time the guys were sore. Either way, it is a massive week for us."
As Loubscher noted, the Rebels' first half performance against the Lions was also an indication that the challenge will be massive too.
"The Rebels' first half against Lions was exceptional. They have some experienced Wallabies, especially at halfback. They are going to be a handful on attack so we will have to bring our 'A game' defensively. And from our side, we will have a plan of attack to exploit them."
The Sharks will be without centre Jeremy Ward this week. The former national age-group captain is serving a five-week suspension for his dangerous tackle on Bulls wing Rosko Specman.
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