Sharks Captain Johann Muller has hinted at a plausible explanation why The Sharks finished the Vodacom Super 14 season off the pace they set and maintained in the first three quarters of the tournament.
Mike Marnewick writes for www.sharksrugby.co.za.
While The Sharks set themselves up perfectly in the early stages of the competition, winning seven of their first eight games, it was a run of success built off the back of outstanding and committed defence, feeding off opposition mistakes. But therein lay the possible downside – bodies could handle only so much battering.
Having held the British & Irish Lions to a narrow 7-3 lead at half-time, Muller hails the first half defensive effort, but his insight shows that a change in the way The Sharks will play in the Absa Currie Cup is on the cards.
“I thought our defence was outstanding in the first half [against the Lions], but it’s the same old story as in the Super 14, you can’t defend for 70% of the game, you need ball in hand and need to get your attack right.
“It showed that we have a lot of hard work ahead of us in the weeks to come. Even though we played against Internationals, I think it’s a huge challenge for us, that we get some decent ball and then keep it, to build the pressure through the phases and make it count.”
He admits that The Sharks will be looking to focus on their attacking play this season, saying, “It’s not giving away any secrets, I don’t think any side in the world would be happy with an average of 40% ball possession in any tournament and I think that’s why we ran out of steam in the latter part of the Super 14 competition.
“We were the team that probably defended the most in the competition and it’s important for us to take the lessons we learnt out of the Super 14 and carry them through into the Currie Cup, making sure we get more ball possession and making sure we keep that ball.”
The Sharks will start the defence of their title once again going into the tournament missing key players to the Springboks for the remainder of the Lions tour and the Vodacom Tri Nations.
“For any side to lose 10 guys to the national side, it’s always going to be tough, that’s nearly half or our Super 14 squad,” Muller explains. “It will hurt any side, but it’s a great opportunity for the youngsters to come through, a guy like Guy Cronje who played Under 19 last year, Luzuko Vulindlu and then Waylon Murray is back from injury, so there are a few guys who can make a mark in this Currie Cup and show that they can play at this level.
“It’s going to be a tough eight or ten weeks for us and it’s important that we set the standards early and maintain them throughout the tournament.”
Having enjoyed a break after the Lions game, The Sharks captain admits that bodies and minds are refreshed and ready for the challenge that lies ahead. “The break we had was important, your mind and body get tired, so the two weeks break was vital and the excitement is back – the campaign is just around the corner.”
Talking of which, The Sharks play Western Province away in first game – on Saturday 11 July – a tough prospect first game up. “That’s their Super 14 squad, they’ve lost about 4 players so it’s going to be a huge challenge for us down in Cape Town,” he admits.
“The Currie Cup starts on a tough note, like the Super 14 did for us this year, but it’s a challenge we have to face and they have to come to Durban later in the competition, so we have to embrace it and make sure we are ready for the challenge.”
Despite the loss of players to the national cause, it is not a new phenomenon for The Sharks, and faced with a similar scenario last year, they went on to win the trophy. Muller agrees that The Sharks might not have had the ideal start in 2008, but once again it is all about showing mental and physical fortitude.
“If you look at last year’s Currie Cup, we lost two of the first four games and we didn’t get any bonus points, it was a really slow start for us. But it showed that after a while we got right what we wanted to do and it worked out perfectly. A guy like Jean Deysel who didn’t even start the tournament was Currie Cup Player of the Year, so again, it’s a great opportunity for a new guy to come through.”Tweet