Johann Muller may be the Sharks’ captain, but it was a few words of wisdom from World Cup-winning Springbok skipper John Smit that really raised the Durban-based team’s spirits ahead of their Currie Cup Final showdown with the Blue Bulls on Saturday.
Adi Jacobs, the ‘reconditioned’ Sharks midfielder, told Jan de Koning of rugby365.com that they are “leaning heavily” on their senior Boks – including Smit.
Saturday’s Durban Final, shaping up as a classic in the true sense, will see 20-odd Springboks – many from last year’s World Cup-winning Bok team – go head-to-head.
And with neither team’s tactics a state secret – in fact both teams have stated their intentions of staying with what they have done all season – it will take something special to win this one.
“If you look at the two teams on paper, both have very strong backlines and forwards,” Jacobs told rugby365.com in an exclusive interview.
“Maybe we just have a bit more experience than them. But there is no doubt it will be a huge challenge for us, because they do have a very good side. We certainly will never underestimate them.”
He pointed to the Bulls’ proven ability to win Finals – both in the Currie Cup and Super 14 – as another key factor.
“They know what it takes to win in finals,” Jacobs said, adding: “We will have to keep calm, stick to our game and hopefully pull it through.
“There really isn’t that much difference between the two, even though we may just be mentally a bit stronger.”
And when it comes to “mental strength” few are stronger than the man who led South Africa to World Cup glory – Smit.
“Obviously we have Johann Muller as our captain, but we’ve also had John Smit’s in-put,” Jacobs said.
“The guys are really willing to learn, even Johann [Muller] was willing to learn and mentally we made that switch, to say we are the best and stick to our game plan and not get sidetracked.”
Jacobs said that the players who were in the World Cup-winning squad last year have played a crucial role in the build-up this week.
“John [Smit] told us that we just have to do the same things that we’ve done in the past, the things that got us there [to the Final].
“You don’t need to do something silly, try to make that 50-50 pass.
“We certainly do have a few guys [World Cup winners] that we can rely on and he [John Smit] is one of the guys we are leaning on. Also our captain, who will be key in keeping the guys calm on the field.”
Jacobs felt there are other factors that contributed to the Sharks’ success this year, such as “becoming a really close family” and the quality of the players they have in the squad.
“In the past maybe the [Sharks] teams just didn’t have enough top quality players,” he said of the 12-year trophy experienced in Durban.
“We know we are facing a good team and it is going to be a huge challenge for us to pull through against the Bulls.”
Consistency in selection has also played a huge role in the Sharks’ march to the Final.
“We’ve been lucky with injuries and haven’t had too many disruptions. We’ve been able to have the same team for the last five/six weeks and that has been the key for us to get to the Final.”
The 28-year-old midfielder also revealed that playing next to mercurial Francois Steyn has also helped his own game in a year which saw Jacobs return to the Bok fold after a six-year absence.
After playing in 10 Tests in 2001 and 2002, Jacobs returned this year under new coach Peter de Villiers and by the end of the Tri-Nations was an institution in the Bok midfield – taking his Test caps to 18.
But it is once he returned to the Sharks, where he partnered Steyn in the centres, that he saw the true value of one of the most misunderstood players in South Africa.
“He is really such an exciting talent,” Jacobs said of Steyn, adding: “One of the problems before was that he wanted to do too much, but over the past few weeks he just did what was best for the team.
“He has been playing very well, even though he still has not reached the goals he set for himself.
“He [Steyn] is a very competitive guy and he wants to do more for the team. In that respect it is very nice playing with him.
“He has learnt a lot since he has been back with us. There may have been times when he took too much on himself, but he now knows what the team wants and that comes from experience.
“I have also learnt a lot from him and he is a very exciting talent.
“In two or three years’ time he will be one of the big stars of South African rugby.
“What I enjoy most about playing next to him is that he keeps the big guys busy.”
Jacobs, he says he still has several years of top class rugby left in his legs, has no immediate plans to follow the big trek to Europe’s cash-flush clubs.
“Top of the list of priorities for me is obviously winning the Currie Cup, then hopefully to get picked for the year-end tour,” he told rugby365.com.
“When I got picked for the Boks the second time, I said to myself: ‘This could be my last one’, so if I play a game I go in with that mindset … that this could be my last game.
“It is not being negative, it is what keeps me going. Sometimes you take things for granted, and then you start losing focus and lose the excitement of making the team. So hopefully that [excitement] can last for me for a few more years to come.”
He said his loyalty remains with the Sharks, but he has not totally dismissed the possibility of heading abroad some time in the future.
“If the Sharks don’t want me, maybe in the next couple of years, then I will look overseas. I will never turn my back on them [the Sharks], because they have been good to me, so I would like to stay in South Africa.
“But who knows what may happen a few years down the line, maybe I can go overseas and play in another country.”Tweet