The Sharks are, without doubt, South Africa’s most successful and consistent team in Super Rugby.
Yes, the Bulls may have won the Super 14 a couple of years back, while the Sharks have not won it once, but three runners-up places and another three times in the play-offs is almost as much as all the other SA teams combined.
And, as Currie Cup champions and having reached the play-offs for the past two years, you have to bet on the Sharks to be right up there with the best this year again.
If they can maintain the momentum they built during the latter parts of last year’s Super 14 and the Currie Cup, they may well be worth a flutter (if you’re a betting man) to win the competition.
Strengths: Consistency is their one big advantage. The team possesses immense talent and an astute coaching team. They are blessed with depth in the front and back rows. They also have creative backs that are lethal finishers at the best of times.
Weakness: No real weaknesses, but they could be vulnerable in the second row if injury strikes. At 34 Albert van den Berg’s body may struggle to last the pace, while Alistair Hargreaves, talented as he is, lacks experience at Super Rugby level. But if Johann Muller and Steven Sykes stay injury free this should not be a problem.
Noteworthy signing: John Smit (back from Clermont)
Noteworthy losses: Frederic Michalak (back to France), Epi Taione (to Harlequins, England), Bradley Barritt (Saracens, England), Henno Mentz (Lions).
Coach: John Plumtree. While Dick Muir did an outstanding job with the Sharks, it was only once the Kiwi, Plumtree, took over that they got that steely resolve that saw them win the Currie Cup. He has an impressive coaching pedigree that includes the Wellington Lions (New Zealand), where he was in charge for five seasons – twice taking them to the New Zealand provincial Final – before joining the Sharks.
Captain: Johann Muller, who took over the leadership role when John Smit played for Clermont last year, has evolved into a impressive leader. He is not a stand out player from a spectator’s perspective, but does the dirty, hard work well. He also commands respect from his team-mates.
Player(s) to watch: The return of John Smit will leave coach John Plumtree with an interesting dilemma – who will be his starting hooker: Smit or Bismarck du Plessis. But it is in the backline where the real stars are – Ruan Pienaar, Francois Steyn and Adi Jacobs … the team’s game breakers.
2008 Position: 3rd on the standings, losing semifinalists
Best finish: Runners-up in 1996, 2001 and 2007
Worst finish: 12th in 2000 and 2005
Home Venue: Absa Stadium, Durban (capacity 52,000)
2009 Prediction: You would be a fool to bet against the Sharks making the play-offs again and they are perfectly placed to kick on from last year’s impressive Super 14 and Currie Cup performances. They could be in the Final again.
Sharks squad – provisional: Skipper Badenhorst, Nikolai Blignaut, Jacques Botes, Craig Burden, Deon Carstens, Patric Cilliers, Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel, Bismarck Du Plessis, Jannie Du Plessis, Alistair Hargreaves, Robbie Harris, Ryan Kankowski, Beast Mtawarira, Johann Muller, Skholiwe Ndlovu, John Smit, Nic Strauss, Steven Sykes, Albert Van Den Berg, Wesley Bodmer, Andrew Borgen, Monty Dumond, Adrian Jacobs, Chris Jordaan, Rory Kockott, Scott Mathie, Charl Mcleod, Waylon Murray, Odwa Ndungane, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Francois Steyn, Andries Strauss, Riaan Swanepoel, Stefan Terblanche.
Saturday, February 14: v Stormers, away
Saturday, February 21: v Lions, home
Saturday, February 28: v Chiefs, away
Saturday, March 7: v Blues, away
Saturday, March 14: v Reds, away
Saturday, March 21: v Western Force, away
Saturday, March 28: v Brumbies, home
Saturday, April 4: v Hurricanes, home
Saturday, April 11: v Cheetahs, away
Saturday, April 18: v Crusaders, home
Saturday, April 25: Byes
Saturday, May 2: v Highlanders, home
Saturday, May 9: v Waratahs, home
Saturday, May 16: v Bulls, home
Courtesy of Rugby 365Tweet