AJ Venter has heaped praise on Sharks coach Dick Muir, saying he has rejuvenated the region’s rugby.
“It is so different this season,” Venter told Keo.co.za on the team’s return from New Zealand and Australia. “He’s made it different. He’s instilled the kind of culture that the great Sharks teams of the early 1990s — the teams he was a part of — had. Our results, one from five, may not suggest it, but our tour was a lot better than that. We finished the five weeks strongly and we start the home campaign excited about the remainder of the competition. The attitude comes from the coach. He sets the tone and you really have to be a part of the squad to know the impact he has had on our thinking.
“Guys play for him. That’s why we were so shattered to lose the way we did against the Hurricanes. I’d rather we copped a 20 to 30 point hiding than to go down through two handling errors.”
Venter, one of the outstanding contributors of the Sharks campaign, said that the organisation of the tour to Australasia was the best he had experienced with the Sharks.
“I’ve been on a few tours, some where we have had more wins and others where we haven’t had a win, but this one beats them all in terms of what we achieved as a squad and the strides made under Dick. Initially all of us were apprehensive about five matches away from home. It had never been done before. Dick refused to see it as a hurdle. He encouraged us to challenge ourselves in each match, both individually and as a team unit. The guys felt they had let him down in Wellington. It was an awful ending to what had been an exciting final two weeks.”
Venter knows the dangers associated with expectation and is aware that the Sharks, having promised so much on tour, must now deliver at home.
“There will be expectation and rightfully so. The pressure is on us because we are a team that has shown we can play attractive and effective rugby. On tour we were the underdogs but at home the role is reversed. The message to the team, from each other, was that we have to turn the near misses into wins. Dick and his support team have done an amazing job with the squad, but now the players must reward what has been put in place for them.
“I am convinced we will,” said Venter, adding that it would take a good team playing very good rugby to beat the Sharks in Durban.