If the Sharks are able to feed off the energy and enthusiasm radiating from utility forward Willem Alberts they are sure to turn their season around in no time at all.
Despite their star-studded line-up – which includes a host of Springboks like Stefan Terblanche, Odwa Ndungane, Adrian Jacobs, JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar, Ryan Kankowski, Steven Sykes, Jannie du Plessis, John Smit, Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Deon Carstens – the Durban-based franchise lost their first two matches of the season.
While they had reason to feel aggrieved at some of the referee’s calls in their one-point loss to the Chiefs, there was no disputing that the Cheetahs were the better team this past weekend.
And now they have departed on a five-match Australasian tour form hell, which will see them cross the Tasman Sea three times – playing the Crusaders on Friday, then heading back to Australian to face the Waratahs and Brumbies, before crossing the Tasman again for encounters with the Highlanders and Hurricanes.
Alberts, speaking torugby365.com before the team’s departure to Australasia, admitted that the biggest challenge for the team may well be a psychological one.
“It would have been ideal to get a win under the belt ahead of the tour,” he conceded.
However, the burly 25-year-old is confident that the Sharks can reproduce some of the more memorable tours of the past – such as last year’s three-wins-from-four-starts effort.
While the 2009 trip was indeed the Sharks’ most productive in Australasia, they are – apart from the Bulls perhaps – South Africa’s most impressive ‘export product’.
They managed back-to-back victories on the road in 2007, 2004 and 2001 – confirming their ability to overcome the odds.
Despite the rather ordinary start to the season, Alberts says he is “really looking forward” to the next five weeks.
“It is new territory for me, in a new team set-up,” said Alberts in reference to his much-publicised transfer from the Lions to the Sharks, which was only confirmed through court action by the Durban outfit earlier this month.
“I am looking forward to the trip, as well as getting a few wins under the belt,” he toldrugby365.com.
He said the Sharks, despite the poor start, are convinced they can turn their season around by winning on the road.
And he dismissed the notion that they will be targeting specific games to do so.
“In a team like the Sharks you have to play game-for-game, because we have the potential to win every game,” Alberts said, adding: “We certainly won’t be targeting specific teams, because every team we will be playing [in the next five weeks] are on their home turf and will be laying it all on the line.
“And every week we are also playing really tough opposition.”
He also did not see the extra games – South African teams play four to five games abroad, while Australasian teams talk of a three-match tour as a long trip – as a burden.
“It may be a bigger headache for management than for the players, because they have to ensure the players stay fresh and stay focussed for five weeks on the road.
“However, from my personally point of view it makes no real difference if it is four or five weeks.”
Alberts said he is happy to finally be able to focus on rugby, after the protracted battle between the Sharks and Lions over the contracts he and Louis Ludik had signed with the Lions.
When lawyer Frikkie Erasmus found that similar loopholes were [resent in their contracts to those that allowed Jaque Fourie to join the Stormers - and with the offer from the Sharks on the table - they decided to move.
But it was not until a court forced the Lions to sign release forms just before the start of the season that he was free to play his rugby in Durban - even though he had been training there since late last year.
"I am just happy it was all eventually sorted out and I am looking forward to the Super 14 and playing some decent rugby," he said.
Where Alberts was guaranteed a starting place at the Lions, at the Sharks he is competing with a number of established players - including Springbok Ryan Kankowski in the favoured No.8 spot.
However, Alberts sees the competition as a bonus, rather a hindrance,.
"It is the same for all teams, there will always be competition [for places],” he said, adding: “It helps to improve yourself and at the end of the day it is a team sport, so what is in the best interest of the team is what really matters.
“It is great if my contribution helps the team improve.”
The other aspect is that Alberts and Kankowski are two vastly different players – the Bok a free-roaming No.8 who likes to play a more expansive game. Alberts, who places himself in the utility category, enjoys a more physical approach to the game.
“It certainly gives the team more options,” he said of the different roles they have.
“I can play at No.7 [blindside flank in South Africa], No.8 and lock as well and it certainly puts me in the utility category.
“That said, I feel we [Kankowski and myself] can work together very well if we have to play together.”
At 1.92m tall and weighing an impressive 112kg, Alberts established himself as one of the premier ball-carriers in South Africa during his time with the Lions.
He boasts impressive pace and brings a great deal of physicality to the game, making him a valuable player both with and without the ball.
Article courtesy of rugby365Tweet