Notshe dismisses Sharks favourites tag

Sikhumbuzo Notshe says the Sharks cannot ‘live in the past’ as they are aware that their South African rivals have strengthened during the lockdown. DYLAN JACK reports.

The Sharks were the form team in South Africa during the regular Vodacom Super Rugby season earlier this year as they topped the overall table before the tournament was halted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sean Everitt’s side won six of their seven fixtures, beating both the Vodacom Bulls and Stormers in the South African conference, and were the second-highest scorers (with 219 points) behind the Reds.

However, in an online media conference on Monday, Notshe affirmed that the Sharks are not taking their early-year form for granted as they prepare to resume domestic action this weekend.

‘You don’t want to stay in the past. Because it is the past,’ Notshe said. ‘We played in March. This is a clean slate now. As you can see, all of the provinces have loaded in that 21-day window. We are aware of that.

‘We can’t live in the past. We have to live in the present. It is a new clean slate for everyone, even myself. We just have to focus on our gameplan and ourselves and make sure that we nail our roles and try to play the Sharks brand to the best of our ability, playing with urgency and speed.’

Domestic rugby will formally resume this weekend with Super Fan Saturday and the four South African teams in action, the Sharks facing the Vodacom Bulls in the first match of the afternoon.

Under new director of rugby and head coach Jake White, the Bulls have undergone a radical change in their squad, bringing in 15 new players and letting 15 go.

Notshe said he expects the Bulls to use their strengthened pack to good effect and release dangerous runners like veteran back Gio Aplon.

‘I think they will mix it up, given what they have in their cabinet. They have got some big ball-carriers and slick backs, youngsters that are coming through in their backs. They are a quality outfit. They have got some experience as well in those backs. Gio Aplon is back.

‘They will probably play a well-balanced game, mauling it at times with a good kicking gameplan and running gameplan. We just need to stop whatever comes our way.’

Saturday’s match could pit Notshe, arguably the form No 8 in the country back in March, against Springbok incumbent Duane Vermeulen, who has returned to the Bulls from Japan.

The two played for a short period together at the Stormers and Notshe said that he is looking forward to facing his old mentor.

‘Obviously you want to play against the best. It’s another challenge that I’m faced with. When I joined the Stormers, Duane was the guy I learned from, things like jumping and mauling. Going up against your role model, someone that taught you the ropes, I am looking forward to that. But the most important thing is to worry about my team and making sure that our systems perform.’

Photo: Masanori Udagawa/Getty Images

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Dylan Jack