Just pride left to play for
WHERE there is life there is hope and there will be Sharks fanatics out there praying for a miracle when their team visits Ellis Park on Saturday hoping to spring one of the great Super Rugby upsets of all time.
Seven days before, the same Sharks team had been completely outplayed in Durban by a Lions side that barely moved out of second gear. They did not have to. The Sharks were poor and seemed resigned to the fact that they were going to lose and thus have the “reward” of playing the first-placed Lions in Johannesburg rather than play the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Can the Sharks honestly believe they can turn things around in seven days, away from home and at a ground where the Lions have won 13 Super Rugby games on the trot?
“I think we can,” defence coach Ryan Strudwick said. “We did not play well at the weekend, we all know that, but a knock-out game is a very different prospect. The whole scenario changes. This is a quarter-final and it is do or die.”
Strudwick said that the Sharks players certainly did not play badly against the Lions on purpose and the first half an hour of the game showed that. The Sharks were committed on defence but as the half-time hooter sounded they suffered a sucker punch try to give the Lions the half-time lead, and it was downhill from there.
“There was not much riding on the weekend’s game but there is obviously everything to play for this weekend and we are confident that we will pick it up,” Strudwick said. “The whole psychology of the game changes this week.”
The former Sharks lock said that it was not only a sub-conscious thing for the Sharks players last week in that it was not in their interests to win.
“I think it was also in the front of their minds in the second half,” Strudwick said. “In the first half we played some good rugby and defended well, but when the chips were down it was almost like the guys knew that the real game was going to be at Ellis Park the following week.”
In the end, the Sharks slipped 38 tackles, by some margin their worst defensive effort of the year.
“That is very disappointing but the positive from it is that these were mostly one-on-one tackles that can be fixed easily with the players having the right attitude.
“It was not a team issue,” Strudwick said.
There will be many who feel the Sharks are clutching at straws but Strudwick insists that the Sharks will be a different animal this time around.
“We are not panicking. We have done our homework. Yes the Lions scored good tries but they came from our errors, and we gave them too many penalties,” the coach said. “They had the majority of possession and territory but we will not be so charitable this time and will hold onto the ball.
“We can’t go into this game with the same attitude as last week. This is knock-out rugby , it is about playing for inches and we need to be more clinical and composed,” Strudwick said. “Psychologically we have raised ourselves against the bigger teams this season, as was the case when we played the Lions at Ellis Park in the first round. Few will give us a chance but we believe we can win.”
Hope indeed springs eternal.