Sharks head coach Sean Everitt says altitude should not be a factor when his team travels to Pretoria to face the Vodacom Bulls in a crucial Vodacom United Rugby Championship clash. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Sharks go into Saturday’s derby at Loftus Versfeld on the back of two substandard results, having given up a lead to draw with the Stormers in Durban before losing to their coastal rivals in the reverse fixture in Cape Town.
Those results have put a bit of a dent in the hype that was built up around Everitt’s star-studded team when they claimed successive wins over the Bulls at Kings Park and the Lions in Johannesburg.
During a virtual media conference on Thursday, Everitt addressed the defeat by the Stormers.
“What people need to understand is that we work really closely with these guys and one of the things you need to have as a team to win is cohesion,” Everitt explained. “Sometimes cohesion doesn’t happen overnight, although we have been training together.
“Last week we let ourselves down. Bongi [Mbonambi] spoke about it during the week, about not sticking to the plan. We had a plan in place and didn’t execute it well enough. So, it is frustrating. We know what the team is capable of. It’s not that they are lacking the motivation to play well on a Saturday. Sometimes things don’t go your way. To be fair, the Stormers played really well. We saw it when the Bulls played the Springboks last year, things can happen against star-studded teams.
“You also learn when you are losing, so it was a lesson learned for us.”
While the past two weeks would have been something of a reality check, the Sharks do know that they have been able to not only play well at altitude, but also put this Bulls team away before.
When the two teams last met in Durban in December, the Sharks demolished the Bulls up front, laying the platform for a comfortable win.
It is this, as well as the Sharks’ ability to go the distance in the 100-minute 2020 Currie Cup final, that give Everitt the confidence that altitude won’t be a factor on Saturday.
“It’s a massive opportunity for us. When you look at the game at Kings Park, you must not forget that the Bulls were lacking personnel in the front row. Sometimes you have to be realistic. Not taking away from our boys, our set piece functioned really well. It did lay the foundation for a good win.
“The highveld thing for us is that we have done it before. Three weeks ago, we were able to put in an 80-minute performance against the Lions to put them away. Likewise, we have done it before in the Currie Cup. It’s a matter of starting well and being really motivated on the day. If the players play well, it won’t be a factor. When we have lost up in Loftus, we haven’t played well. It’s not as if we have played well and then lost.
“What gave us a bit of confidence, and I know we talk about it all the time, but 12 months ago we went up there and played for 100 minutes at altitude. Unfortunately, our set piece cost us at the death of that game. We were really competitive and should have won that game in 80 minutes, had we been accurate in our execution.
“I think that gave the team confidence. But we don’t talk about altitude anymore. The Stormers had a good win up at Loftus two weeks ago and that would have given them confidence that they can cope with whatever intensity that comes their way.”
As an extra boost, the Sharks have welcomed Springboks Curwin Bosch and Sikhumbuzo Notshe back on the bench. Both players returned from injury in a Currie Cup match against Western Province last week.
“It’s good to have Curwin back. He showed good form last week as well, from a kicking perspective. Obviously, Notshe on his long-awaited return to play was also outstanding in his 55 minutes for the Currie Cup team.
“They deserve their opportunities on the bench. The changes that we have made is to reward players that have shown good form in the Currie Cup.”
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