The Sharks have the potential to be a dominant force, but there is a big chance of them never realising that potential, says RYAN VREDE.
The manner in which the Sharks went down in Christchurch was deeply disappointing. Their tactical execution was awful when they needed it to be brilliant. However, don't let the result completely tarnish your view on this team. At their best they are formidable and in White they boast a coach with the skill to maximise the resources at his disposal.
They have a squad most Super Rugby franchises would envy, and with a couple of quality additions in key positions, have the potential to be a dominant force in Super Rugby in the years ahead. But dominant forces are a thing of the past, certainly for South African teams. The pulling power of Europe and Japan has ensured that. And let us be mindful of Australian franchises having space on their roster for a marquee pick.
The Crusaders are the only Super Rugby side to maintain a consistently high-performance level. They've made 13 consecutive semi-finals and now have the opportunity to add to their seven Super Rugby titles. They, however, have managed to retain the services of their elite players, most notably Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, for the duration of their careers. This is something no other Super Rugby side has managed to do. They've also succeeded in consistently attracting a number of New Zealand's best young talents, ensuring quality in depth, a succession plan and longevity.
The Sharks have a number of players ripe for European and Japanese clubs' picking. Beast Mtawarira, Pat Lambie, the Du Plessis brothers, Willem Alberts and Frans Steyn are but a handful of Springboks at stages of their careers where they will be contemplating a lucrative career away from Durban. The threat of them compromising their Test careers by playing abroad has diminished significantly, making the decision easier.
Furthermore, gifted youngsters like Paul Jordaan, Cobus Reinach and SP Marais (among others) will never be short of European suitors. Increasingly the trend is for talented kids, unlikely to break into the Springbok team for some time, to pursue careers abroad. Paul Willemse, a fine junior international player and Springbok prospect, is the most recent example of this.
Indeed White's own commitment to the Sharks will be tested if he gets the right international coaching offer. He has never made a secret of his desire to coach at Test level again. I wouldn't discount him taking up a top club job in Europe – Toulon, Saracens or Toulouse for example – either if such an opportunity presented itself. This is not a judgement on White's character or loyalty. He is fiercely ambitious, distinctly aware of his value in the market and fully prepared to exploit this to his advantage. I understand and respect this.
Sharks CEO John Smit is, by all accounts, in the process of building a culture players want to be a part of on and off the field. However, the Bulls are a prime example of such a culture being powerless when lucrative offers find their way onto the table of players who are ready for a new challenge. Once a couple of key players take up such offers, others feel more justified in doing the same. The result, for the Bulls, was the end of an sustained period of dominance. The Chiefs are in the same boat.
The Sharks have every chance of suffering the same fate. Only their ambition is likely to be blunted before they break their Super Rugby title drought.
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