The time has come for the Super 15 to get underway this week and I cannot wait. It has been far too long since the last time a ball had been kicked-off, a try scored or converted. The last End of Year Tour to the Northern Hemisphere was about as exciting as watching paint dry. The writing was on the wall before the team left that this was going to be a bore session. They picked the right players and then persisted in leaving them on the bench or played them out of position or didn’t play them at all. But that all ends as the players go back to their respective franchises. Pat Lambie will be back to playing at flyhalf and hopefully tearing opposition defences apart.
The Sharks played in a warm-up tournament toward the end of January and if anything can be read into the results then Sharks fans have a lot to worry about. We ran out on the Tuesday and lost 41-10 to the Lions who had finished the Super 14 in 2010 at position 14 and currently hold the record for the longest losing streak in Super Rugby history stretching to fourteen or fifteen games. Admittedly, there has been a lot which has changed in the Lions setup with more players being signed, a huge influx of money through sponsorships and a new coach. The Sharks say they were not too motivated for the game and I can understand how it might be difficult to motivate yourself for a game which doesn’t count for anything and in which you might be injured. The Sharks came back on the Saturday when we played the Stormers, who were incredibly underdone and if we were where we were last year when we won the Currie Cup we should’ve put them away from a good ten to twenty points. But instead we made multiple changes in the last ten minutes and ended up losing by a single point.
Thankfully the biggest difference is that this year the team has been able to concentrate more on the field with the courtroom antics of 2010 behind them. Of course, there was that attempt by the Lions to lure Beast Mtwarira to their union with a ludicrous salary. But sanity prevailed and he decided to stick with the team which propelled him to the big time.
The 2010 edition of the Super Rugby competition did not go so well for the Sharks with them having lost the first five games of the tournament in a row before they finally picked up some form and pushed through, only losing to the eventual champions the Bulls in their last eight games. A similar start can end up being catastrophic this year again and hopefully everything has been put in place so that this will not be repeated. The Sharks did come right to the end of last year and managed to win the Currie Cup for the second time in three years beating both the finalists in the semis and the final to secure the trophy. Supporters of those teams would have you believe it was because of the tournament being played with under-strength teams with the Springboks not being involved. BUT they won’t mention the fact that the Boks were back in the semis and the final, so the Sharks beat the Super Rugby squads to win the Currie Cup.
The Sharks start the tournament with two games at home before they embark on the four-week long road trip to the Antipodes. This is probably the best possible start the Sharks could have hoped for. This way, we get to get the road trip over and done with and know that the rest of our games will all be played in South Africa. But they also get to escape from Durban in a time when the humidity would make the running rugby they play incredibly difficult. Hopefully, we can get the tournament going with a fine win against the Cheetahs over the weekend and set ourselves in for a great run to the finals weekend.
Super rugby (or Superugby, as it’s been rebranded) has been changed up quite a bit with their being three “subpools” alongside the main round robin stage with a team from each country (South Africa, New Zealand or Australia) guaranteed to get a home finals game. The finals section is also extended to include the top six teams on the final log (provided there is a team from each country in the six). The top two automatically get home semis and wait for the winners of the quarter-finals. Teams three through six play each other to determine the winners. Thereafter, it’s the standard semi-final and final rugby as we all know it.
Of course, the week’s break for the top two teams can be both a positive and a negative. The positive is that the team can get a little bit of a physical break and there is a chance some injured players can return to the team. The negative is that they lose a bit of steam and continuity and then have to play against a team which has already fought for its life once and is used to being in the same position. It will really be up to the team management to utilise the break in the best possible manner.
Sharks’ chances: I’m always reticent to go out and predict that my team will win the whole bangshoot but if we can get a solid start and gel properly as a team and have the right game plan, I’m sure that we’ll be able to stand up to the likes of the Bulls and Crusaders come crunch-time.