Sharks coach Dick Muir believes his side can beat the Crusaders in Christchurch next weekend and progress to the Vodacom Super 14 final.
The Sharks came close to upsetting the champions in Timaru in March, before a late drop goal from Dan Carter consigned them to a gutting 22-20 defeat. However, Muir has no doubt the Sharks can finish the job in Christchurch, if the Bulls don’t sneak in through the backdoor by thrashing the Stormers.
“We can beat any team on our day,” said the coach. “I believe there is still a lot to come from the Sharks. We have great depth in the squad and everyone is doing their jobs behind the scenes.”
Muir admitted the final five minutes of the Force match had been nerve-wracking to watch from the coach’s box. Two tries from Cameron Shepherd brought the visitors to within 14 points of the Sharks, which meant another try would have dumped them out of the play-offs.
“I don’t think I have any fingernails left,” he said. “I think we had too big a cushion at one stage [at 41-15]. We lost our concentration and played far too loose.”
The Sharks were also disrupted by the loss of AJ Venter and Johan Ackermann during the first quarter, a fact acknowledged by Muir.
“It was a big setback, they are two key players,” he said. “But that’s why we have replacements and I thought they [Keegan Daniels and Albert van den Berg] did a great job.”
Captain John Smit also lauded the effort from his side. “I’m really proud of them,” he said. “At the beginning of the year everyone shot us down and said we’d be relegated. We believed in ourselves and aimed for higher honours. We’ve given ourselves a chance of playing in the semi-finals … it’s in God’s hands now.”
Barring a massive win from the Bulls at Newlands – or divine intervention from above – the Sharks will leave for Christchurch on Sunday.
By Simon Borchardt