Thomas du Toit says the Sharks “live for moments” like Saturday’s “do or die” Vodacom United Rugby Championship quarter-final against the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria, reports DEVIN HERMANUS.
The Durbanites travel to Loftus Versfeld after the Bulls finished fourth in the regular season of the URC to book a home playoff, but the Sharks have won both encounters in the 2021-22 campaign – the most recent a 29-22 victory in February on the Highveld.
It ended a winless run for the Sharks at Loftus dating back to 2011. The two franchises have met just twice before in playoffs, both finals won by the Bulls – in Super Rugby at Kings Park in 2007, and in the Currie Cup in Pretoria in 2021.
Speaking to the media in the build-up to Saturday’s clash, Sharks skipper Du Toit said: “The Bulls might be favourites because we’re obviously playing at Loftus and everyone there will flippin’ be Bulls supporters!
“We’ve faced them twice already [in the URC] and are prepared for what’s coming. It’s a different scenario and context being a quarter-final… and yes, the altitude also makes a difference but we’ve overcome that a few times now, so we have a certain level of confidence knowing what to expect there and having previously done the job.”
The tighthead prop has explained that the Sharks competing at Loftus to clinch a semi-finals spot actually makes things easier for Sean Everitt’s men.
“The best option would’ve been to play a home quarter-final but the next best option is to stay and play in SA,” said Du Toit, whose troops’ four-game-winning run in the URC ended with a 24-21 defeat to Ulster in Belfast on 20 May.
“As a player, you’re lying to yourself if you don’t say there is a certain level of pressure that you put on yourself but I think it’s a very good thing … going into a game like this, which is do or die.
“Normally, we as South African unions put ourselves on the ropes and there’s only one way out and that’s to fight your way out of it. It’s a good mentality to have … we live for moments like this. As the old saying goes, ‘If everything was easy then everyone would do it’.
“We’re more excited by the fact that it’s difficult; we embrace the pressure and are excited to handle it.”
Phepsi Buthelezi added: “This is an international competition and one we want to win, we really want to go up to Loftus and perform. It will be a very good battle and it’s a challenge we’ll certainly be up for. It’s knockout rugby.”
Addressing the challenges posed by the Bulls, Du Toit said: “Have a really good power game… but it’s not all one-dimensional, not anymore. We’re expecting them to have a few variations at the mauls and lineouts while still having a stable base at the scrums.
“The threat is that they’ve been putting some arrows in their quiver – playing off mauls and scrums, taking opportunities when they come in their own 22.”
Looking further ahead, the 13-cap Springbok is excited about potentially experiencing scenes in Durban similar to the wild celebrations in France after new European Champions Cup winners La Rochelle paraded the trophy in the city this week.
“We’ve experienced a little bit of Europe, the new cultures … it’s a very exciting prospect going into [the Champions Cup].
“Trophy touring … that’ll be unbelievable! We know the amount of work that needs to go into it, and there’s an expectation from the players and everyone else, but we’re putting ourselves in a position to do it.”