With Super Rugby now just days away, we preview each of the teams in the competition ahead of the new season. Next up, the Sharks.
The Durban-based franchise have come close to winning the tournament on several occasions but are yet to finish as victors. There’s an air of expectancy in Durban, especially after impressive performances in 2012 and 2014 when they finished as runners-up and semi-finalists respectively. Gary Gold is the Sharks’ third director of rugby since 2012 and has big boots to fill following the abrupt departure of former Springboks coach Jake White during the off-season.
Last Year: The arrival of White had a positive effect on the team’s morale – after they finished in eighth position in 2013 – and they were the pacesetters during the tournament’s early stages after winning their first four matches, at home, against the Bulls, Hurricanes, Lions and Reds.
They then suffered a blip in their first away game, against the Bulls with a 23-19 loss in Round Six but returned to the victory trail with a convincing 32-10 home triumph over eventual tournament winners the Waratahs in their next match.
After that there were further victories against the Lions and Cheetahs before they suffered a shock 34-18 loss in Durban to the Highlanders. They then set off on their overseas tour and after beating the Rebels (22-16), they went down 16-9 to White’s former side, the Brumbies, in a dour encounter in Canberra.
They bounced back in style in their next match and secured a memorable 30-25 win over the Crusaders in Christchurch – despite playing for more than three quarters of the match with 14 men, after Jean Deysel was red carded – and finished the tour off with a hard-fought 29-23 victory over the Blues in Albany.
All that good work was undone when they returned to South Africa and suffered successive defeats to the Stormers (home) and Cheetahs (away) and although they beat the Stormers in their return match in Cape Town it meant they finished third on the table which cost them a home semi-final. They were made to fight hard before claiming a 31-27 win over the Highlanders, in their play-off in Durban but suffered a 38-6 thrashing against the Crusaders in their semi-final in Christchurch.
This year: Gold wants the Sharks to play a more exciting brand of rugby and the franchise has gone to great lengths to achieve that goal. They have also roped in former Springbok centre Brendan Venter, who is returning to Durban as the Sharks’ technical director.
The duo’s desire to play attacking rugby has led to them acquiring the services of New Zealand attack coach Brad Mooar, who spent two weeks in Durban to assess the team’s attack and the attacking play in general in South Africa.
While that should have a positive effect on their approach it remains to be seen how quickly the team adapts to the new style. Under White, they didn’t score plenty of tries and kicked mostly for territory before forcing their opponents into errors from which they capitalised.
Gold only arrived in Durban from his stint at the Kolbeco Steelers in Japan this week and it will be interesting to see if his philosophy and vision will bring the desired results as the tournament progresses.
Key Players: It’s an old clich