7 February 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld
SHARKS READY FOR SUPER RUGBY TITLE TILT
The time is now for the Sharks if they are to finally ascend to the Super Rugby throne.
The trek to the summit of the most-renowned provincial rugby competition in the southern hemisphere is generally a long and arduous one, with only the truly elite teams reaching the peak and breathing the rarified air reserved for champions.
No team’s journey has been as agonising as that of the Sharks. On no less than four occasions (five, if you include the pre-SANZAR era 1994 final) – in 1996, 2001, 2007 and 2012 – the Durban-based franchise were one step away from glory, only to be reduced to runners-up, most crushingly, that infamous ’07 implosion against the Bulls at home.
Unenviably known as Super Rugby’s unrivalled bridesmaid, 2019 might just bring a change of fortune as the Sharks kick-off the season as one of the most settled sides in the competition, and indeed the most established of the four South African franchises.
The squad has had a few years to develop, find their identity and evolve. The growing pains – most significantly, the inconsistency that saw them reach the play-offs as dark horses rather than legitimate title contenders in each of the last three seasons – should be a thing of the past.
The Sharks class of 2019 is mature, Springbok-laden, well-balanced and boast desirable depth, particularly in key positions.
In the front row, they have an embarrassment of riches with the likes of Bok brutes Tendai Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Thomas du Toit, Akker van der Merwe and Chiliboy Ralepelle – the ideal battle-tested warriors to lead the charge.
Despite the loss of Stephan Lewies, the second row looks sound, while the blockbuster back row is a key component of the black and white machine.
Uber-talented twins Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez are set to terrify defences with relentless, wrecking ball-like runs and silky ball skills once again, with workhorses such as Philip van der Walt and Jacques Vermeulen providing a near-perfect balance.
The backline is essentially a Bok-loaded machine gun – a multi-faceted firebird able to penetrate defences with individual flair, strong hit-ups and lethal pace out wide.
It’s in the all-important 9-10 axis, however, where the Sharks are perhaps best served. In new captain Louis Schreuder, Cameron Wright, Rob du Preez and Curwin Bosch, they possess a quartet of play-making and tactically astute Boks who can dictate terms.
With the talent and depth at their disposal, the Sharks are equally adept at playing a tight and expansive game, whichever circumstances require. It’s this well-roundedness that makes them so successful, especially against New Zealand teams in comparison with the other South African sides.
After their opening-round trip to the land of the rising sun to tackle the Sunwolves, the Sharks remain on South African soil for the next eight encounters before making the trip to Australasia for the most testing period of their regular season, in late April/early May, when they’ll come up against the Waratahs, the defending champion Crusaders and the Chiefs.
— Tinashe Rusike (@MrSthHemisphere) December 20, 2018