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Much to gain – much to lose

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 2 Apr 2013 at 14:27
Tagged with : , , , , , , ,

While losses sustained by both the Bulls and the Stormers over the Easter Weekend may have given the Sharks a little breathing space at the top of the South African Conference log, an unlikely new challenger, in the form of the Cheetahs, has emerged to ensure that Friday’s game against the Crusaders remains a must-win.

In winning their last four games on the trot, including three down under, Naka Drotske’s men have now surged into second place on the domestic log and can do untold damage in the coming weeks as they face the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks in quick succession. Should they win just two of those games, and the Sharks stumble over the next fortnight, don’t be too surprised to see the completely unexpected (and unprecedented) situation of the Cheetahs heading the South African Conference as the competition passes its halfway point.

Looking back at the Sharks, though, they really do have the ball in their own court at the moment and for long suffering fans such as yours truly, that can often seem like the worst possible position for this particular team to be in. How often in the past haven’t we seen the Sharks conspire to throw away what should be a comfortable buffer on the log by under-performing when they’re on top, only to mitigate, to an extent, by putting in a superb run once their backs are to the wall? One feel that if they are to capitalise on a relatively good start in 2013 – and finally go all the way in Super Rugby – that pattern will need to change, starting with Friday’s game.

A shocking statistic, though, that few Sharks fans will be aware of is that Friday’s opponents, the Crusaders, have only lost to the Sharks on three occasions in the history of Super Rugby (with one of those being a heavy loss in the first year of Super 12, 1996, when the side from Canterbury finished last). Since then (discounting an away draw in 1997, which remains the Sharks’ best ever result in Canterbury) the Sharks have recorded only two wins against the Crusaders, both in Durban, and by an aggregate margin of only 5 points. The visitors may well be without talismanic players in Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read for this clash, but by gum, if anyone doesn’t realise the extent to which the Saders have made the Sharks their “bunnies” in recent times, those number should correct that misconception.

The Sharks, in short, are going to be properly up against it on Friday, facing a team that has beaten them over and over and over again in this competition and knows how to do it again this year.

Any thoughts of complacency, then, due to a bloated winning margin over a frankly shocking Rebels outfit a fortnight ago will hopefully have been dispelled as these “wounded Crusaders” somehow managed to down the supposedly invincible Stormers in Cape Town. That result, coupled with the visitors’ own proud record in Durban, should hopefully stoke enough slumbering fires within the psyche of the Sharks squad to ensure a performance reminiscent of their work during last year’s play-offs, rather than the damp squib produced in their last “big clash”, against the Brumbies three weeks back.

After all, with a big away game against the Stormers next up, the Sharks simply cannot afford to lose this game.


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