Looking back at the Cell C Sharks’ season to date, I’m left feeling that they’re a bit like a matric pupil who has aced their preliminary exams; impressive, but certainly not in a position where they’ve actually achieved much of anything yet.
There are a lot of pithy sayings; you can only play what’s in front of you, you’ve got to bank the points at home while you can, you can’t score tries in Durban in summer and so on. None of those really mean a lot – the fact is, the Sharks have been simply great so far this year, despite one rather unfortunate performance away from home (which ended up being far closer on the scoreboard than the play would have suggested). Of a possible total of 30 points from their six matches to date, they’ve banked 23 and are comfortably 6 points ahead of nearest rivals the Chiefs, who do admittedly have a game in hand.
Apart from that Loftus defeat, the Sharks’ smallest winning margin so far has been 14 points. They have conceded the fewest tries in the competition and also boast a points difference that is streets ahead of anyone else’s. One can bemoan a lack of bonus points (only 2 from 5 home wins) if you want to, but apart from that (and Loftus) there’s really very little cause for concern for Sharks fans.
BUT (and there’s always one) we would be naive if we didn’t factor in the draw. Looking at this from a contrary position, all that the Sharks have really done so far is win five home matches, which is kind of what you’d expect a good team to do. Casting your eye down the results list, you’ll notice that you can count away wins this year on just slightly over one hand and the inevitable conclusion is that the Sharks’ current lofty log position is probably somewhat skewed by the fact that they’ve yet to really leave Kings Park. I mean, they’ve only had to do so once and when they did, they lost.
There’s plenty of food for thought there… and perhaps it’s the reasons why the Sharks fans I know (having read this scripts before) are tending more towards “cautiously optimistic” than outright “we are the champions”-style swagger. It’s fortunate in a way that the next set of matches represents a very real opportunity to pick up three more wins before the real slog starts – an overseas tour in a year where no side has yet managed to notch up a win after crossing the Indian Ocean.
That’s still rather far off, though. For the Sharks, there’s a more immediate and non-negotiable goal. In fact, even the home matches to come against the Cheetahs and Highlanders are of little importance as the Sharks face their next challenge. They play at Ellis Park next week and simply have to show everyone in this competition that they are capable of getting a result away from the Kings Park fortress that to date boasts the enviable record of not having yielded up so much as a solitary log point to any opposition team.
I’d go so far as to say that if the Sharks can’t win at Ellis Park next week, they won’t win Super Rugby. Let’s see how that prediction pans out.Tweet