The Sharks remain a very good side that loves playing an energetic brand of rugby and they are a team very comfortable with what they are trying to achieve on the rugby pitch.
THE SHARKS have won their last three Super Rugby games on the bounce against the Lions and I can’t see that run ending when they host them on Friday evening at Jonsson Kings Park in the opening match of Super Rugby Unlocked (7pm).
The Lions were in the sights of the Sharks when Super Rugby was locked down in mid-March – the fixture was coming up in early April – and that surely would have been a comfortable victory for the log leaders over a Lions side that was struggling.
Yes it is six months later, and the Lions have stocked up on experienced players in the interim, but how much will really have changed in the respective camps?
Before the Sharks began their current winning streak against the Lions, they lost seven in a row to the same team. That was in the Johan Ackermann/Swys de Bruin era when the Lions were a different team and playing a lively brand of rugby that took them to three Super Rugby finals, and an imperious 19-match winning run over all South African teams, which was ended – funnily enough – by the Sharks in Durban.
But since then they have been emasculated by player movement overseas, plus coaching changes, prompting a transitional phase that is some way from being complete.
And the Sharks have been the opposite. They bade farewell to the troubled Robert du Preez era after Super Rugby last year and rebuilt beautifully in the Currie Cup under CEO Ed Coetzee and coach Sean Everitt, resulting in them hitting the ground running in Super Rugby this year, sweeping to the top of the standings after seven rounds.
My point is that six months of lockdown is not going to have undone all that good work — the Sharks have also had minimal changes to their squad over this time – just as the Lions can’t be expected to suddenly approximate the great Lions team of not that long ago.
The Sharks remain a very good side that loves playing an energetic brand of rugby that suits the players that Coetzee and Everitt smartly recruited last year. They are a team very comfortable with what they are trying to achieve on the rugby pitch.
Let’s not forget that they have won their last four Super Rugby games on the bounce coming into Super Rugby Unlocked: it’s their longest winning streak since a stretch of six wins across the 2015 and 2016 campaigns.
Also, the Lions have lost their last four away South African derbies in Super Rugby in a row after having been undefeated in their previous 11.
To reiterate, I don’t think that enough has happened for either side to tonight have a change in their respective winning/losing streaks.
An indication of how well the Sharks were playing when the interruption came is this statistic: The Sharks gained 387 metres and beat 23 defenders per game in the 2020 Super Rugby season – by some margin the most by any South African team in either category.
Sharks (15-1): Manie Libbok, JP Pietersen, Lukhanyo Am (c), Marius Louw, Werner Kok, Curwin Bosch, Sanele Nohamba, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Phendulani Buthelezi, James Venter, Hyron Andrews, Ruben van Heerden, Thomas du Toit, Dylan Richardson, Ox Nche. Bench: Dan Jooste, Mzamo Majola, John-Hubert Meyer, JJ van der Mescht, Celimpilo Gumede, Grant Williams, Jeremy Ward, Thaakir Abrahams.
Lions (15-1): EW Viljoen; Jamba Ulengo, Burger Odendaal, Dan Kriel, Sibahle Maxwane; Elton Jantjies (c), Dillon Smit; Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, Jaco Kriel, Marvin Orie, Willem Alberts, Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole. Bench: Jan-Henning Campher, Dylan Smith, Wiehahn Herbst, Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 MJ Pelser, Hacjivah Dayimani, Morné van den Berg, Gianni Lombard, Wandisile Simelane, Ruan Dreyer.