We’re not far away - Daniel
Gavin Rich - SuperSport.com
Durban - Keegan Daniel has seen a lot in a first class rugby career that has now spanned 12 years since he was selected out of the Sharks Academy by Dick Muir, so when he talks about where the Sharks stand right now in their development, his is an opinion worth listening to.
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Let’s not forget that it was Daniel who was at the helm of the Sharks the last time they won anything meaningful. That was in 2013, when the Sharks won a Currie Cup final against Western Province at Newlands. There have been four very fallow seasons for the union and franchise since then, and they have been frustrating ones for Daniel in particular, who first fell out of favour when Jake White took charge and then was injured after returning from a stint in Japan.
The emergence of young players such as the Du Preez twins hasn’t helped his personal cause either, and arguably neither did another change of coach, from Gary Gold to Robert du Preez. Every coach in this country does have a different opinion about the relevance in modern rugby of the type of player that Daniel is. We’re talking physical stature here. Daniel isn’t exactly what you would describe as a big bruiser.
Yet the product of Dale College in King Williams Town has made a habit of proving himself (he paid his own way at the Sharks Academy initially and just got noticed through sheer hard work) and has kept himself in the mix. He is still enjoying his rugby enough to throw himself boots and all into another Super Rugby season, this being his first since 2016 as last year he was injured in a pre-season game and never played. And while it has been a frustrating start to the year for the Sharks, with no win after two starts, he is hopeful that a turn-around, and a return to the success that marked his early years as a Shark, might not be far away.
“It is frustrating when you have the opposition on the ropes and you don’t put them away, and then it becomes even more annoying you watch the replay of the game and you see the opportunities you created and did not convert,” said Daniel after a training session at Kings Park in the build-up to Saturday’s clash with the Sunwolves.
“I really don’t think we are far away. It is not like we are going onto the field and don’t know what we are doing. We are on the right track. We just have to click, start converting our opportunities and eliminating our mistakes, and I think the rest will click into place. I think we are close to doing that, we just have to believe and stick to what we are doing.”
There’s been a lot of talk in Durban about the more attacking game that the coaches had in mind when they resolved to do the bulk of their pre-season training with the ball in hand, and while the draw with the Waratahs that started the home leg of Super Rugby was a case of “same ol’, same ol’” in terms of wasted opportunities, there was nonetheless evidence of more attacking innovation.
Those who only ever watch Durban games on television and don’t get down to the sub-tropical venue to experience the sweaty and clamping humidity for themselves must sometimes wonder how the Sharks can always be so error prone. They made some rank poor elementary mistakes against the Waratahs, but then so did their skilled Australian opponents.
When Plumtree was coaching the Sharks he took the early season conditions into account when preparing his team. The Sharks would tend to start off Super Rugby campaigns when he was coach by winning arm-wrestles rather than notching up victories with a flourish. That would come later on in the season, when it was less humid.
But Daniel, who was part of the Plumtree years, believes the Sharks are on the right track when it comes to being prepared to be adventurous.
“You do not want to curb enthusiasm and creativity. Margins are small when you are intent on attacking and you know you are either going to be a hero or a villain. As long as the guys stick to something new and exciting the approach will eventually pay off,” he said.
One perception that Daniel doesn’t appear to agree with is that the Sharks are a young squad who still have a long way to travel before they can become successful.
“The older players like myself must absorb as much pressure as possible and shepherd the youngsters. But it comes naturally for me to try and perform and stand out, and this squad is a lot more settled than it may appear.”
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