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    SHARKS Super Rugby focus: Their strengths

    2019-02-06 10:45

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - These are the reasons why I believe the Sharks - something many would consider overdue if so - COULD illuminate Super Rugby 2019:

    Good chance of early traction

    Just in terms of the slog involved (some 13 500km), starting your Super Rugby campaign in Tokyo may not represent a dream state of affairs.

    But strip away the long-haul travel factor, and the Sharks cannot have major reason to bemoan kicking off against the modest Sunwolves.

    Play to their potential against the side still considered likeliest for the cull if the competition scales back once more at some point, and the men from Durban could just find themselves heading the SA conference after round one - which would be a handy little development psychologically.

    While you have to be very wary of placing cart before horse, they arguably have a better chance of earning a full house of log points against the traditionally labouring Japanese outfit than any other team in the group (Bulls v Stormers and Jaguares v Lions could both be nail-biters).

    If that mission is accomplished, the Sharks then return for successive home games against the Blues - planning bigger things in 2019, apparently, but still potentially the weakest New Zealand team - and Stormers.

    Three out of three? Far from impossible, and something that would be a menacing kick-start.

    Remember that the Sharks were ominously behind the eight-ball fairly quickly last season, when they lost to the Lions in Johannesburg on the opening weekend, had an unwelcome second-round bye, and then could only draw with the Waratahs at Kings Park.

    Levels of physicality to eclipse most foes

    Yes, it could also be deemed an area of weakness in certain respects (more of that in part two of this Sharks study!), but there can be little doubting that Robert du Preez snr’s charges will inflict plenty of bruises on opponents.

    It is in the Sharks’ DNA to be uncompromising and direct, and they have the personnel - or read: the human wrecking balls - to bully people off the ball all over again, particularly on heavier surfaces or in any foul-weather games.

    That hallmark will begin in the front row, where veteran Beast Mtawarira should be on a deep quest to keep Steven Kitshoff at bay (increasingly difficult?) for the Springbok No 1 jersey, and fit-again Coenie Oosthuizen and Thomas du Toit are two of the bulkiest and most zealous ball-carrying factors by reputation in Super Rugby.

    The second and back rows will hardly be short of tonnage on the drive and in big-hits terms, either, while just behind the engine room, the busy “ten and twelve” channels will be policed by no-frills individuals like Robert du Preez jnr, Andre Esterhuizen and the latter’s likely inside centre understudy Marius Louw.

    By punching plenty of holes through the middle, the Sharks will be hoping to tee up agreeable space for some altogether more fleet-footed customers in wider berths …

    Increasingly settled squad

    The franchise have surrendered a few players between seasons - but also precious few who could be considered genuinely frontline material.

    Certainly they have suffered nothing like the level of setback in that regard that has occurred at the Lions, even if, when an increasingly peripheral Keegan Daniel quit last year, a yeoman, nippy loosie servant to the Durban cause since 2006 was sacrificed.

    Subsequent acquisitions from elsewhere? Close to zero, although the Sharks will be hoping former Bulls lock Ruben van Heerden, still just 21 and snapped up before the 2018 Currie Cup season, recaptures his mojo after a rather stalled-development kind of year. He is an iron-man in waiting.

    But the overwhelming nucleus of their existing troops remain, and the major desire of the home faithful will be to see them gel rather more meaningfully than they did in up-and-down Super Rugby 2018.

    The blend between youth and “hardebaarde” is terrific … at least on paper.

    Some men on an angry mission

    Inadvertently, one of the best developments for the (eventually victorious) Sharks immediately ahead of the Currie Cup final at Newlands last year was the revelation that hooker Akker van der Merwe and barnstorming loose-forward twins Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez had not made the cut for the Springbok end-of-year tour.

    A few Western Province players, though, were made aware they HAD cracked the nod. Result? Some of the host-union players appearing a little distracted and in body-preservation mode in the showpiece, and the “Angry Warthog” and company, by major contrast, producing hopping-mad, bellicose showings that were influential in the mild upset.

    The low-centre-of-gravity but eternally beavering Van der Merwe possibly won’t have calmed down yet, either, as he is not guaranteed to be among the top three Bok hookers for World Cup year and thus out to prove a point in the SANZAAR competition.

    Jean-Luc du Preez regrettably only joins the fray at around the midway mark of ordinary season due to injury, but his brother will begin the competition and anxious, you’d think, to combine some of his known robust qualities with more nuanced ones to present a better “all-round” package this year and press him closer to the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Warren Whiteley in the Bok pecking order at eighth-man.

    *NEXT IN SERIES: The Sharks’ shortcomings

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    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Friday, 22 February 2019
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