A move toward a more balanced approach as well as the presence of several World Cup-winning Springboks have made all the difference for the Sharks in 2020, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Stormers and Sharks have emerged as the two early front-runners for the South African conference title. The Jaguares may have something to say about that later in the tournament, but for now the coastal teams appear to have the quality as well as the game plan to launch a serious campaign for silverware.
The Stormers have been handed a favourable draw. After two big wins against the Hurricanes and Vodacom Bulls, it’s fair to say that they are determined to make a six-game start to the tournament in South Africa count. You’d expect them to beat the Lions in Johannesburg this weekend and retain their position at the top of the overall log.
The Sharks, however, are better placed given that they already have a win in New Zealand under their belts.
If they continue to execute like they did in Dunedin when they meet the Hurricanes this Saturday, they will leave the Land of the Long White Cloud with two victories. If they go on to finish their Australasian tour with three or four wins, they will return to the Republic in a stronger position than their South African counterparts.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS IN NEW ZEALAND
2018: Hurricanes 38 Sharks 37
2016: Hurricanes 41 Sharks 0 (quarter-final)
2015: Hurricanes 32 Sharks 24
2012: Hurricanes 42 Sharks 18
2010: Hurricanes 26 Sharks 29
History tells us that the Sharks have been handed an unfavourable draw. Travelling to Australasia in the second week of the tournament – and playing the first two matches of a four-game tour in New Zealand – has compromised and broken many a South African campaign in the past.
In 2020, however, an early journey to the east, and to New Zealand in particular, may help a South African team’s cause. The All Blacks have been rested in the wake of the 2019 World Cup and the respective franchises – with the exception of the Chiefs – have battled to pick up the slack.
The Sharks made a statement in Dunedin last Friday. While their issues at the scrum require urgent attention, their ability to contest at the lineouts and breakdowns has dovetailed with their counter-attacking strengths.
They boast all the talent in the world in the wider channels. What’s been particularly impressive to note is how they have put the likes of Makazole Mapimpi and Aphelele Fassi into positions to strike and score.
Suffocating defence and accurate kicking is generating counter-attacking chances. We saw the Sharks contesting the high ball well in Dunedin last week.
While they may miss the experience of Sbu Nkosi – who has returned home due to an injury – they will know that Madosh Tambwe has the ability to win the aerial contest and create opportunities against a fractured opposition defence. Tambwe did exactly that in the lead-up to James Venter’s try last week.
In the past, we’ve seen the Sharks or another top South African team producing a complete performance one week and then losing their focus the next. The Sharks should be wary of dropping their standards when they go to Wellington.
The Hurricanes will not be at their best. They’ve just competed a tour to Cape Town and Buenos Aires. They may take some time to settle in the battle against the Sharks.
The Sharks haven’t beaten the Hurricanes in New Zealand since 2010. It would be fair to say that the Hurricanes have a mental hold over the Sharks, given that they’ve won the last four fixtures against the Durban-based team.
The Sharks are well placed to break those shackles, though. Another victory in New Zealand would boost the franchise’s chances of a successful tour and strengthen their claim for that South African conference title.
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Photo: Steve Haag Sports/HollywoodBets