I hate to pour cold water on the rampant enthusiasm doing the rounds, but we need to keep perspective this week, lest we find ourselves coming down to earth with a thump on Saturday.
The Sharks were great on Saturday. Absolutely no doubt about that. They fronted up superbly, played as a team and exceeded all expectations in getting the result they needed, with a bit to spare. The forwards were superb and completely took the Chiefs out of the game. The backs, for once, actually finished off the chances they created. It was pure magic to watch.
But on firing up my web browser this morning, I am suddenly inundated with articles claiming that “the Sharks can go all the way” and that we are “a shoo-in for the title”. I think we need to be very cautious about such wild speculation, particularly as much of it comes from that same Cape media contingent that rubbed their hands while gleefully writing the Sharks off not a week ago. We have had to endure talk for the entire second half of the season about how it was the Stormers, not the Sharks, who were sure to mount the best South African semi-final challenge; now, after two good performances (well, one good and one great) we are suddenly touted as the messiahs again – by the self-same people? Two-faced hacks, if you ask me.
No, despite all the media hype, we need to take a long, hard look at where we have come from and where we are now. In the words of Gandlaf “the quest balances on the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail”.
The Waratahs gave us a serious smack last time out. Our pack has the muscle to stand up to them, but it would be foolish pride to think that we can dispatch them as easily as we did a Chiefs outfit hamstrung through the lack of a proper front-row and no Sione Lauaki. Wycliff Palu and Rocky Elsom, operating in tandem, will present a formidable obstacle and it concerns me that we now seem to be turning to Epi Taione to try and repel them.
If we learned one thing last week, it should have been that Jean Deysel is ready for this level of rugby. If we should have learned one other thing from this campaign, it’s that Taione’s suspect discipline is not something that we can afford to carry in this team. Including the Tongan in the tour squad is a mistake and I hope it doesn’t come back to bite us.
Frans Steyn is injured, yet he is included at the expense of Andries Strauss, who did some phenomenal work off the bench on Saturday. Should Steyn fail to recover in time to take his place in the 22, that will leave us with a single fit backline reserve. I know that Taione can again be pressed into service as an emergency back if need be, but is this really the sort of risk we want to be taking on the eve of such an important game?
If anything, I would hope that the coaches stress continuity in the buildup to this week’s game. Also, the fans, as much as the team, need to concentrate on not getting ahead of ourselves. We are still outsiders, still under-dogs and (to my way if thinking) the Crusaders are not going to lose to the Hurricanes. Do we really have what it takes to beat the Waratahs and Crusaders on successive Saturdays, away from home? Particulalry when both teams will be playing semi-final style rugby?
I remain optimistic, but cautiously so. So should we all.Tweet