Coach Sean Everitt believes the Sharks will be regarded as underdogs against Western Province, but has highlighted a determination to seize the opportunity in Saturday’s second semi-final, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It’s been a season of stops and starts for the Sharks, who have been one of the teams most severely affected by Covid-19 outbreaks in the squad.
An all-important Currie Cup match against WP was cancelled just a few weeks ago, while the Super Rugby Unlocked match between the Sharks and Stormers in October was also called off due to Covid-19 protocols.
The impact on selection continuity has also reflected in inconsistency on the field, with the Sharks never really reaching the same heights they enjoyed at the start of the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby campaign.
Yet, after the Currie Cup semi-finals were postponed by a week, both the Sharks and Province have named powerful lineups, and there is a feeling that it will be a pretty even playing field on Saturday.
As it is, home-ground advantage in games between these two sides have not always favoured the hosts as expected in recent playoff history, although there will be some added motivation and emotion for WP as they play their final game at Newlands – albeit in the absence of fans.
‘In one sense there is some pressure on Western Province, being the home team and playing the last game at Newlands,’ Everitt commented during a virtual media conference on Thursday. ‘We’re going down there as underdogs, they were second on the log and had some good wins in the Currie Cup, but it all comes down to error rate and discipline in a playoff situation.
‘We have had success at Newlands before in big games, though, so we’re looking forward to that,’ he added.
The prevailing pre-match sentiment among pundits is that the Sharks will have to find a way to match the powerful Province pack if they are to progress to next weekend’s final, but Everitt suggested there was more to it than just that.
‘What Province have done is complement the strength of their pack with a good kicking game. They’re not taking any chances in their own half, and are kicking the ball long, but that does give us opportunities from a counter-attack point of view.
‘Everyone talks about the scrumming and power tight five, but there are a lot of other elements of the game that you have to get right to get points on the scoreboard. So, we’re looking at opportunities, and if we don’t play accurately in terms of receiving the kick we could be in a spot of bother, but we’ve prepared for that.’
In terms of the Sharks’ counter-attacking game, one player in particular will be seen as a dangerman: star fullback Aphelele Fassi.
‘Fassi does add a different dimension on the counter,’ Everitt conceded, ‘but that is probably an area where we haven’t performed as well as we would have liked to. That’s something that was affected by the lack of continuity in selection due to the regular changes we have had to make.
‘When you have continuity you have synergy on attack, but the guys have really trained well, and now we’re just trying to get back to the form we had before Super Rugby was stopped.’
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images