Super Rugby is almost upon us and along with the pre-season jitters, on my part, comes the inevitable speculation: How will the Sharks go this time around?
In 2011 I had to learn the hard way that making super 15 predictions is not just tricky but a veritable lottery. Teams I expected to go all the way fell by the wayside and teams I tipped as “ just a season away” made it big.
After all the disappointments I suffered as a sharks supporter last year I am determined to keep my expectations very realistic this year. Having said that, if you cast your eye on the fixture list it does seem as if the rugby gods smiled on us for a change. The most encouraging news is that we`ll only face the Crusaders in the play off stage, if we both get there, and we host the all conquering Reds in the Shark Tank! Positive indeed.
The first step to Super 15 success is of course to top your national conference and I believe this is not impossible. We finished second in the Currie Cup last year, only losing out to the Lions who probably won`t pose the same kind of threat at Super Rugby level. Remember the key to Super Rugby success is depth in crucial positions, something the Lions might lack. The Bulls will field a very young side and we had their number in 2011 already. While we can`t dismiss their chances off-hand they`ll have a huge mountain to climb without their Bok stalwarts.
Free State Cheetahs will pose a bigger challenge this year but they will have to overcome a huge challenge in Christchurch as well as possible depth problems. Remember they won`t have the services of Sarel Pretorius and Riaan Viljoen this year. This brings me to our biggest competition for that coveted top spot in our conference, the Stormers.
While they certainly have no shortage of quality pivots the departure of Francois Louw could be problematic for them. Schalk Burger will have to take over as fetcher which could lead to a lot of penalties against them. Will their defense be as rock solid this year without the organizational skills of Jaque Fourie? In Juan de Jongh and Jean de Villiers they have the best “ starting “ centre combination in South Africa. How will Allister manage them though? I don`t have to stress the fact that this is a long tough competition and rotation will be the key to success . . . or failure.
In comparison the future looks bright for the Sharks. We have the much needed depth in most positions, a relatively favorable draw and experienced players where it counts. Through careful management and clever team selection this is looking increasingly more achievable.
Injuries will come, but if something should happen to our star flyhalf this year we have the experienced Fred Michalak to step in and steady the ship. Who knows, coach Plumtree might just surprise all of us by giving Tim Whitehead some game time! Bismarck du Plessis will gain a lot of confidence from his new appointment as vice captain and with all the game time he can handle, look for him to be a real thorn in the opponents side!
In short, Shark supporters have reason to be optimistic as long as the team selection issues gets sorted out early on.
Lets make 2012 count.Tweet