While the Auckland Blues lie in wait for the Sharks in the fourth game of their tour next weekend, in round 7, it’s blues of another sort that they’ll need to shake off in order to record victory in Wellington.
History has shown that the third game of tour tends to be the hardest one for South African sides to win, with the so-called “third week blues”, caused mostly by homesickness after a fortnight on the road, often leading to a poor showing. The Sharks lost their third match last year, when they were unable to follow up on a superb 10-point haul in Australia with any points at all against the Chiefs; that showing in Hamilton, in fact, was probably about their worst of the campaign.
Working in their favour this year though, is the fact that they saw with their own eyes how the Cheetahs pulled off a remarkable victory against the Hurricanes last week and will know that they have the ability to do the same on Good Friday, if they just play to their strengths and maintain the same defensive commitment they showed against the Brumbies. The tour group is in good spirits after the first win in Canberra since the last century and with Pat Lambie and Bismarck du Plessis expected to be passed fit, coach Plumtree could have a full squad of 26 from which to select his side; a pretty handy position to be in after 6 rounds. The fiery hooker is battling a quad strain, but should recover in time, whilst Lambie took full part in training yesterday.
The Sharks will have set themselves a target of no fewer than 10 points from this tour, although 12 would be better and 15 absolutely perfect. They managed 6 in Australia, meaning that at least a single win in New Zealand is a must. The team would love to head to Auckland to take on the off-colour Blues knowing that they’ve already “made book”, to borrow a term from Contract Bridge. Picking up the four points (or preferably five) in New Plymouth could see them avoid heading to Eden Park to play a “must win” game just before stepping onto the plane, always a difficult situation to be in.
My feeling is that if the Sharks can eke out a win against the Canes, they’ll probably go on to give the Blues a real hiding and could even return to South Africa with an unheard-of 16 points from the tour. That certainly wouldn’t be a bad result, given the doom and gloom that pervaded after an agonising loss in Sydney in week one of the tour. Ah, but how quickly things can change within a rugby week; let’s hope that come Friday afternoon, we don’t find ourselves bemoaning a similar result.Tweet