Why the Sharks are SA’s deadliest team

By BET Contributor

19 February 2020, by: Sibusiso Mjikeliso

Why the Sharks are SA’s deadliest team

The Sharks have positioned themselves this season to become not only a playoff contender but a team that could go deep into the Super Rugby season through their turbo-charged rugby.

Granted, last weekend’s 38-22 defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington took some shine off their early season form but you have to admire their doggedness and fight, in the face of brutal ‘Canes ball-carriers and mounting injuries.

The Stormers might look like SA’s most dependable team but the Sharks, should they have most of their prominent players back, pose the deadliest threat to any team coming up against them this season.

They are playing with a certain joie de vivre, spearheaded by some of their silky operators such as Aphelele Fassi, Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

That they played the Hurricanes having been decimated by injuries to notable players like Thomas du Toit, the Springbok World Cup-winning tighthead, Mapimpi, who hobbled off early, and replacement flyhalf Boeta Chamberlain, who went off after failing a concussion test.

They were already without Curwin Bosch, who has conducted a superlative orchestra in his first season as the Sharks’ bona fide No 10. Bosch lost his mother a couple of weeks ago and flew home, missing the rest of the Australasian tour.

Setting all of that – plus Ben Lam’s terrifyingly terrific 11-minute burst in the second half – aside, you’ll find that the Sharks are primed to carry on South Africa’s feel good factor this season.

Here are their key ingredients that could make them highly successful this year:

The one this for which there is no substitute: pace. Speed, whether it’s of thought or of motion, separates good players from gifted players. The Sharks possess speed in all it’s sumptuous forms: fleet-footed outside backs in Fassi, Mapimpi, Madosh Tambwe and Sbu Nkosi, when he is fit as well a swift ball-handler in Notshe.

In the half-backs, should Sanele Nohamba get the start he’s been dying for ahead of Louis Schreuder, the Sharks have quick ball-retention and recycling, which gives Bosch enough time to make a good decision.

What’s more, they’ve replaced the “Twin Towers” (Dan and Jean-Luc du Preez) with their own set of “Kamikaze Twins”: James Venter and Tyler Paul.

What the latter duo lack in brute force, they make up with mobility. The Sharks can clear their rucks with laudable swiftness, which, again, sets the platform nicely for Notshe, Nohamba and Bosch to work their magic.

Sean Everitt was always seen as the lead extra around Kings Park. He was not one to make grand, headline-grabbing remarks like some former Sharks coaches.

He was unassuming; always just going about his business. And during the time when his sole focus was on the youngsters in the academy, he was adept at building players’ self-esteem and not shy to offer up youth products to the first team in their rookie professional seasons.

He had a kind word for almost everyone he worked with but the Sharks were always chasing someone with more star quality and opted for Jake White, Brendan Venter, Gary Gold and, perhaps erroneously, Robert du Preez, as John Plumtree’s successors.

Everitt was happy assisting White and Venter, working with the backs and, for a season under the 2007 World Cup-winning coach in 2014, it looked like something special was brewing in Durban. Alas, that never came to fruition following White’s incessant paper-chase.

Everitt, though, stuck the course and was handed an opportunity to lead a young vibrant Sharks team last year. In him, players know they will get maximum support and they will want to repay him with performances on the field.

His arm-on-shoulder style mentorship, his bias towards adventurous rugby, have endeared him to his players and it shows on the park. Plus, in Dave Williams, he has a cunning skills coach, who was in the past largely responsible for the Cheetahs’ nuclear attacking style.

Williams knows how to make minute adjustments, turning the dial slowly each week, so that each player sees an improvement without feeling belittled or insecure about their abilities.

Until recently, it’s been taboo for South African teams to field 50 black teams every week and not make a song and dance about transformation. The Sharks have put in some organic changes, starting at the top, that %have seen the introduction of some capable black professionals on and off the field.

That has translated to trust in leaders such as captain Am as well as Mapimpi and, even though they are new to the setup, Notshe and Ox Nche. They don’t say it but they live a culture where the black players aren’t sitting on the edge of their seats every week, not knowing whether they will start or watch from the stands.

Under Du Preez, there was a massive black talent cull that put paid to some pretty handy players’ Sharks careers: Inny Radebe, Garth April and Rhyno Smith. Du Preez unabashedly favoured his sons, including flyhalf Robert du Preez junior, who at times was so out of sorts that he looked better off in one of the club teams instead.

There is none of that with Everitt’s new charges. Soon, Jaden Hendrikse will emerge from the periphery, to rough it out with Nohamba and Schreuder at half-back. Forwards JJ van der Mescht, Phepsi Buthelezi and Andisa Ntsila are also champing at the bit to get involved.