It is going to be one heck of a battle between two equally desperate sides
THE Sharks need no reminding that they have lost five of their last seven Super Rugby derbies played at Jonsson Kings Park, and that the rot has to stop on Saturday against the Lions if the Durbanites want to have a say in the quarter-finals.
Two derbies have recently been lost to the Bulls and the Stormers in Durban in a season for the Sharks where they have been very good against overseas opposition but poor against their South African counterparts.
Seasoned prop Coenie Oosthuizen says the four home losses this season have weighed heavily on the minds of the players and ways of reversing the troubling trend were discussed while the squad was away on tour.
“Obviously we are not blind to our mistakes and on tour we had a good opportunity to reflect on what has gone wrong at home,” Oosthuizen said. “There are definitely things we can do better and we will be implementing them from this game against the Lions and going forward.”
The burly front-ranker was not at liberty to divulge state secrets but he did expound on one obvious area the Sharks have to fix.
“Starting well in a game is massively important and it is something we have struggled with at home. You can look at every aspect of a rugby game but if you don’t start well, you are guaranteed to struggle later in the game,” Oosthuizen said.
“The first 20 minutes will be vital for us on Saturday. We have to come out firing. We have to show the right intent both for us and the opposition everyone must know that we mean business. We are determined not to fall behind and then have to try and catch up later in the game ”
It is going to be one heck of a battle between equally desperate sides, and unfortunately for the Sharks, it is one they will have to fight without the use of some heavy artillery.
Injured on tour and not available this week are front-rankers Akker van der Merwe (shoulder), Tendai Mtawarira (knee), Craig Burden (bicep) and Thomas du Toit (ankle sprain).
And Oosthuizen is anticipating a tougher physical battle than anything the Sharks encountered on their recent three-week tour.
“Derby games are the most physical in Super Rugby,” the 30-year-old said. “People think it is the New Zealand teams, the likes of the Crusaders that are toughest, but it is the SA derbies by some margin.
“I think it is because we play each other so much and so know exactly what to expect,” he added. “Homework on our fellow SA teams can be done more thoroughly than the overseas teams. The SA guys know how to get under your skin. You have played alongside many of those guys in some team or another over your career and they know what buttons to press.”
Adding fuel to the fire on Saturday is the no small matter of the hiding the Lions suffered at the hands of the Sharks at Ellis Park not that long ago.
“They will come back firing after the last result. We have been in that same scenario before and the hurt is always there in the back of your mind,” Oosthuizen warned.
“It gives you extra motivation. Those type of results tell you what the opposition can do to you if they pitch up switched on and you do not after the first 20 you can be 20 behind.”