In a pretty bizarre twist of fate, all three Sharks team will face semi-final encounters against the Blue Bulls this weekend. Unlike their senior counterparts, though, the Sharks under 19 and under 21 sides could not manage a top of the log finish and as both teams finished third on their respective logs, a daunting trip to Loftus Versveld is in store for them.
There is little doubt as to who the “big three” teams in South African rugby are this year. The Sharks, Blue Bulls and Western Province have all managed to send their respective teams through to the semi-finals off all three competitions, while the Cheetahs were surprisingly poor at under 19 level this year. The Leopards, finishing fourth in the under 19 competition, will take on Province at Newlands, with the Cheetahs sending their under 21 side off to the same venue. Province topped the log in both junior competitions,with the Blue Bulls second. Interestingly, the supposedly resurgent Lions failed to make the semi-finals of any of the three competitions, highlighting the scale of the work that still needs to be done at that union.
Things could have turned out very differently for Swys de Bruyn’s Sharks under 21 side. Going into last weekend’s game against WP, they could have sealed top spot on the log themselves and faced a home semi against the Leopards. Alas, it was not to be and they were soundly beaten. More alarmingly, they picked up a few nasty injuries, the most serious of which was the broken leg sustained by impressive fullback Wynand Pienaar. Captain Ross Cronje (scrumhalf) and inside centre Dwayne Jenner are also doubtful for the trip to Pretoria, while hooker Kyle Cooper (ankle injury) and lock Jandre Marais (possible suspension) might also miss out, turning an unlikely mission into a virtually impossible one. Despite a good season that has seen them lose very few games, the young Sharks have been properly beaten twice by their Bulls counterparts – the last time they went to Pretoria they conceded 50 points – and it would take a very brave man to predict a Sharks victory in that game.
The under 19s, though, expertly lead by Sean Everitt, have overcome some patchy early-season form to return a 100% win rate from the second leg of the competition. On days when both the senior and under 21 sides lost, it was the under 19s alone who emerged victorious, both in Pretoria a month ago, as well as in Cape Town this past weekend. With star SA Schools centre Piet Lindeque in fine form and former Michaelhouse flyhalf Orefile “Reef” Nakin directing the backline superbly, this side knows how to win big games away from home. Paul Anthony’s Blue Bulls side will lack no motivation and will be superbly prepared, as always, which should make this one an intriguing encounter.
So, while there are 3 huge matches coming up this weekend, let’s at least salute the work done by all involved in the Sharks union to get us to this point. No resting on laurels, though, as we have three huge games to win this weekend.