Before facing the Highlanders at home this weekend, the Sharks know that they have to win against the New Zealand side in order to keep in touch with the wildcard places they must reach to make the playoffs.
Currently 10 points behind joint South African conference leaders the Bulls and Stormers, John Plumtree’s side have gone through a wildly inconsistent season so far, having not put together back to back victories since Round 4. A lot of this has come down to the serious injury list that derailed their efforts against the Bulls and Stormers in the first two rounds.
However, following the return this week of Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, Marius Joubert, Ryan Kankowski and Odwa Ndungane, the Sharks squad is in the best shape we’ve seen so far this campaign. The fixture list has arguably been harsh on the Durban outfit up to now, with only three of their 9 games played at Kings Park so far and a gruelling four match tour away in Australia and New Zealand taking its toll. However after having their bye week last weekend, the Sharks now have five matches ahead until their next bye in which to claw back the gap in the South African conference, something that Plumtree has stated this week is absolutely crucial.
“This is the crunch period. We know we have to be successful over the next five games before that June break. We have a massive five games coming up before the June break but our main focus right now is on the Highlanders. We have to improve and the challenge has been dished out to the players. There are certain things we need to get right internally for that to happen and it’s what we’re focusing on at the moment.
“Our preparation has to be more accurate. Its little things like that we need to work on and by working on them we hope it will make a difference at the end of the day.”
The narrowness of the Sharks’ defeats so far cannot be ignored either, given that they have come away from four of their five defeats with losing bonus points. The talent in the Sharks squad suggests that they should be competing in the playoffs – Pat Lambie, Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis and JP Pietersen all ply their trade in Durban – but have the left it too late? The recovery starts on Saturday.
by Ben Coles