The Sharks travel to Cape Town for their Currie Cup semi-final against Western Province with the big hope that their forward pack shows major improvement, or their title hopes will wane.
The coastal derby is scheduled to take place at Newlands Stadium on Saturday at 4.30 pm, with the winners facing the Lions or Bulls in the climax of the domestic competition next week.
Apart from being upset by Covid-19 which forced the cancellation of a number of their matches, the Sharks were also let down by their forward pack, which has been their weakest link on many occasions this season.
That is a big concern for the Sharks because their next opponents, Province, boast quite a strong and performing forward pack, which is spearheaded by World Cup winners such as Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe.
Their strong pack has taken most of the credit for their run that saw the John Dobson-coached side finish second on the log table at the completion of the round-robin phase.
Almost every time the Sharks performed badly or lost, their forward pack took flak both from fans and scribes.
But Sharks lock Ruben van Heerden says they know exactly what stands between them and a Currie Cup final spot and they have worked really hard to change their weaknesses to strengths so they can match Province.
“I think when you get to this level of rugby, everyone is strong, and everyone shows up on the day and wants to play. So, I think a lot of it comes down to the technical side and we’ve worked hard on nullifying what gives them strength, what gives them momentum, and that’s lineouts, mauls, and scrums,” said Van Heerden.
“They bring a very strong set-piece, lineouts, scrum time and mauling. So, we know what they are going to bring on that side of the game, but we are very well prepared and looking forward to the challenge.
“We’ve worked extremely hard on strengthening those areas of our game, because we know that is what is going to come. We are very confident at this stage that we can do the job and the training has been going very well.”
The likely return of World Cup-winning tighthead Thomas du Toit from injury would be a welcome boost for the Sharks.
While the 23-year-old refused to label their opponents as one-trick ponies, Van Heerden suggested that if they gain parity upfront Province might struggle to get the better of them.
“Western Province is a very good side, but I think they just have certain strengths that they go to and they do that really, really well,” said the forward.
“Whether or not they are one-trick ponies, I wouldn’t really say but if we take their strong points away from them, would they bring something else? We will find that out on Saturday.”
This will be the first time the two sides meet this season after both their round-robin matches were called off due to Covid-19.
The last time the Sharks reached the final of the competition was in 2018 when they defeated Province at Newlands under then coach Robert du Preez.
“It will be extremely special to get to the Currie Cup final, I think the Currie Cup is one of the oldest rugby competitions in the world and that itself is very special. To win the trophy would be amazing because the Currie Cup is definitely the cornerstone of South African rugby and I can’t see that changing,” said Van Heerden, who joined the Sharks in 2019 from the Bulls.
“For us to be in the Currie Cup final would be a tremendous achievement.”
Marius van der Westhuizen will blow the whistle, with Rasta Rasivhenge taking charge of the other semi-final between the Bulls and Lions at Loftus Versfeld at 2 pm.