Sean Everitt’s Sharks XV got their 2010 Vodacom Cup campaign off to a virtually flawless start by beating Border 69-8 on Friday night. We caught up with flanker Justin Downey to get his thoughts on the game.
“It was a good start,” he concedes, “but we know that it’s only going to get tougher.” Despite dominating virtually all aspects of the game in the first half an hour, the Sharks XV battled to get on the scoreboard. “You know how it goes against those sides, though,” says Downey, “they’ll suck you into their game and try to disrupt your structures. Once we found each other, though, we managed to play the game we wanted to.” Ten tries later, the XV found themselves at the top of the South Section log, with a bonus point as well as a healthy points differential heading into week 2. Although Border are by no means one of the stronger teams in the competition, Downey believes it was good to have them first up. “You really have the opportunity to fine-tune your approach in a game like that – where the opposition aren’t necessarily the strongest. We know that playing Western Province in Cape Town next week will be a completely different challenge. Because the Stormers aren’t on tour at the moment, Province have a lot of Super 14 fringe players to pick for their Vodacom Cup side”.
Speaking of Super 14 fringe players, the Sharks XV found their own plans somewhat disrupted this week, with four players who were initially expected to tour with the Sharks suddenly out of favour. “Sean is such a good coach and so open with the players that he managed that situation very well,” Justin tells me. “Obviously Monty, Charl, Alistair and Andries were very disappointed but Sean had a good chat with them and they are completely focused on the Sharks XV challenge. Managing players and their expectations is Sean’s real strength and the guys appreciate that they always know where they stand with him.” All four players went on to make huge contributions to the win on Friday, with Strauss taking the captain’s armband, while Dumond scored 19 points with the boot. Hargreaves even helped himself to a try. Although all the players weighed in with solid contributions, Downey reserves particular praise for former Maties centre Jean Stemmet, who scored twice. “I think it’s a pretty big step up from Varsity Cup to this level and Jean put he a lot of pressure on himself to perform. He really did play well, though and repaid the coach’s faith in him”.
As is becoming customary at this stage of the season, discussions about new laws (or in this case, new interpretations) will always be on the agenda. “It really makes the game a lot faster,” Justin reckons, “and as an opensider, you have far fewer opportunities to force the turnover. You can’t afford to just have a go at everything any more – you kind of have to hang back a bit and really pick your moments. There does seem to be a lot more opportunity to do things with ball in hand, though, which suits my style of play.” Everitt’s philosophy has always been about backing the players to express themselves – and sticking by them even if it doesn’t always work out. As a result, the Sharks XV are playing a high-tempo brand of rugby, based on a dominant pack and backs that have the skill and confidence to convert the opportunities. It’s early days yet, but they certainly couldn’t have hoped for a better start than they got on Friday night.
“We’ve got a really strong squad this year – a settled team and we know how we want to play. We’re all committed to making this work, ” concludes Downey.Tweet