The Sharks are in with a fighting chance of achieving a first-time South African feat: victory in all matches on the Vodacom Super 14 overseas leg.
Saturday’s deserved bonus-point triumph over the Blues in Auckland means they have won both their 2009 games in New Zealand (they edged the Chiefs last weekend) and now face up to a brace of relatively inviting fixtures in Australia before heading home. Rob Houwing writes for www.sport24.co.za.
Their foes will be the very ordinary Reds next Saturday, before they end their Antipodean trip against the Force in Perth.
They will be strong favourites in Brisbane – they thrashed the Reds 59-16 in the corresponding fixture two years ago – even if the Force may present a sterner challenge: the Sharks lost 22-12 to the Western Australians in their own lair in 2007.
But it is a far better schedule than having to take on either of the table-topping Waratahs (they lead the Sharks via their one extra bonus point at present) or the Brumbies at their home venues.
So this is as inviting an opportunity as ever to seek that win record: it is the year when the Sharks only play four overseas matches rather than the five-match “tour from hell” experienced every two years.
The Bulls, of course, are the other unbeaten South African side going into their afternoon derby against the Stormers on Saturday, but they face the five-match challenge abroad this year and are unlikely to prevail each time, given their relative historical reluctance to warm to the take-your-passport trip.
Last year the Stormers came desperately close to achieving the record as they faced the same opposition abroad as the Sharks have in 2009: the Cape side beat all of the Reds, Chiefs and Force but their only blemish was a 17-14 reverse to the Blues.
Whether or not the Sharks manage a four-out-of-four outcome, they seem well on course now for a home semi-final by finishing in the top two – they will hit the business end of the tournament with a favourable string of matches back on home soil.
The Waratahs may head the table at present, but their last three matches in the league phase are all in South Africa, including what shapes as a humdinger against the Sharks in Durban on May 9.Tweet