The Sharks have arrived in New Zealand expressing pretty much the same attitude that the Stormers did on their recent tour – they are out to win every game they play.
Speaking to Sharksrugby.co.za, skipper Johann Muller said that while past teams may have targeted specific games that were more important than others, the 2008 vintage were too good a combination to do that.
“We go out there to play well in every game we play in, and if possible, win every game,” said Muller.
“We are too good a side to pick which games we are willing to lose. That wouldn’t be fair to us or to our supporters. We are going to go out there and play as well as possible, and if we can win all five games, that would be fantastic.”
Gavin Rich writes for Superrugby that of course, part of the motivation for that attitude is that this Sharks team has reason to aim a lot higher than some previous South African teams at the start of a tour of New Zealand and Australia. That is because Muller’s men are not aiming to just be competitive, or to sneak into the semi-final bracket, they want to emulate last season’s performance by finishing top of the log, which would book them home ground advantage in a final.
This means some of the matches they play on this tour are a non-negotiable when it comes to whether they can afford to lose – starting with this week’s clash with the Hurricanes in Wellington. The Hurricanes are one of the teams that can upset the Sharks’ plans to finish in the top two, and Muller’s men know that victory, apart from bolstering their own hopes, will also knock the Hurricanes back a peg or two.
It is a similar story with the later clash with the Waratahs, who are mounting a competitive challenge for a semi-final place. The Sharks finish off against the Crusaders, the team tipped to finish top. In some circumstances, the game could be expendable, for instance if the Sharks are so far behind at that point that they cannot pip the Crusaders on the log.
But unless coach Dick Muir suddenly finds he is in a situation where some of his players are in desperate need to rest, the Sharks will be going all out for victory in that game as apart from anything else, they know that the psychology of playing well against the Crusaders will be important in the event of the two teams meeting again in the knock-outs, which is highly possible.
Then there is also the small matter that the Sharks have always been good tourists, and Muir has inculcated the belief in this Sharks team that they have the capability to win anywhere and against any opposition on any given day.
It will be recalled that even in the Kevin Putt era, when the Sharks weren’t as successful as they are now, they came close to knocking over the Crusaders on their own territory, and two years ago the match in Christchurch was a desperately close run thing, with many feeling that the Sharks were robbed of a victory that should have been theirs.
One thing in the Sharks favour is the impressive depth that Muir has built up in most positions during his three seasons in charge and his rotational policy during the first six matches has given most of his players an opportunity to build some confidence in case they are called on once attrition starts to have an effect.Tweet