The Sharks will face a litmus test when they take on the rejuvenated Blues in Saturday’s clash in Durban, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In the first round of Vodacom Super Rugby, the Sharks flew largely under the radar despite securing a highly-impressive 45-10 bonus-point win over the Sunwolves.
Although the Sharks took some time to find their rhythm, they eventually ran in six tries, with their pack producing a dominant performance in the mauls and scrums, while there was some encouraging interplay between the backs.
The Sharks now return to play six out of their next eight games at home, but will first run up against a resurgent Blues team that made a significant early season statement in largely outplaying the Crusaders last weekend.
Although a costly couple of missed goal-kicks ultimately saw the Blues slip to a two-point defeat, they would have taken great heart from the nature of their competitive performance against the defending champs.
A look at the Sanzaar statistics certainly demonstrates just how dominant the Blues were. On attack, the Auckland-based side completed 468m compared to 235 from the Saders, while also making 113 carries to 61, 145 passes to 83, and beating 20 defenders to 15.
The Blues also forced the Crusaders to make more than double the number of tackles (182 to 80), while they enjoyed 64% of possession.
On that basis, the Blues will be desperately disappointed not to have finished off the win that was certainly there for the taking against a Crusaders side that looked rather rattled.
Nevertheless, new Blues coach Leon MacDonald said they would take the positives out of the performance, while now targeting two wins on their travels (they face the Jaguares on 2 March in Argentina).
‘I always wanted to get two wins out of three as a nice little target. That means we’re going to have to win both on the road, so we’re going to have to get everything right this week and the following week.
‘The challenge is there for us. Getting there and playing in South Africa, I’m excited by it already. It’s important we back up this performance [against the Crusaders] again next week, otherwise it will be disappointing.’
Last year, the Sharks claimed one of the best wins of their season when they hammered the Blues 63-40 in Auckland, but Saturday’s clash is likely to be a far different prospect.
However, Sharks attack coach David Williams said he would continue to encourage the players to express themselves.
‘I just love a team that sees the [space on the] field and has the bravery to take chances, although I do temper it with not being silly with the ball. Against the Sunwolves the bravery was there.’
For Saturday’s clash, the Sharks are expected to welcome Curwin Bosch back from injury, and he may well take over at fullback.
Forwards: James Parsons, Matt Moulds, Sione Mafileo, Alex Hodgman, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Lua Li, Josh Goodhue, Patrick Tuipulotu (capt), Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Tom Robinson, Matt Matich, Hoskins Sotutu.
Backs: Jonathan Ruru, Augustine Pulu, Otere Black, Harry Plummer, Ma’a Nonu, TJ Faiane, Sonny Bill Williams, Tanielu Tele’a, Michael Collins, Melani Nanai, Rieko Ioane, Caleb Clarke.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/www.photosport.nz