AJ rates his troops

Despite losing 31-19 to Free State, Sharks captain AJ Venter believes his team are on the the right path. Speaking to keo.co.za, Venter rated the Durban-based side in five areas.

Forward play:
“When I look at the tournament so far, I’m really impressed with the way our forwards have played. It seems that we’ve taken a step up from our Vodacom Super 14 showing, which I thought was good. Our performance on Saturday wouldn’t suggest that we’ve improved, but you can’t look at that game alone. If you look back over the season, most of our tries have come from well-structured forward play, so I’m happy with that area of our game.”

Backline play:
“The loss of Butchie [Butch James] at flyhalf was a big one for us. He is a natural leader and ‘generals’ the backline superbly. Before he left he was starting to create great opportunities for his outside backs. But Brad [Barritt] has come in and filled the role really well, considering he is a natural centre. He is still a young guy, but he has got the head of a 25-year-old. His tactical kicking has impressed me and his defence has been outstanding. We’ll look for him to get our dangerous backs away more often in the coming rounds, but overall our play in this area has been impressive.”

Set-plays:
“Ja, you know, this is the one area in which I think we can improve. The execution of our set-plays has been inconsistent and we’ll have to be more precise in this area if we are going to get a home semi-final.”

The dual-squad system:
“I’ve been very happy with it. From a conditioning point of view, those two weeks break [inbetween games] really gives you an edge. Unfortunately, we lost that one game [against Griquas] with our alternative squad, but it’s not the end of the world. It [the dual squad system] has exposed our young guys to a high level of competition and that can only benefit us not only for the Absa Currie Cup, but for the Vodacom Super 14 next year as well. I said at it’s inception that it was a chance for some players to really prove that they deserve a place in the squad come the second round of the competition, and players like Steven Sykes and Ryan Kankowski have made it really hard to ignore them. They’ve taken their chances and are now likely to be in the match day 22 come the second round.”

Overall impression of the tournament so far:
“We really wanted to be top at this stage. But that said, the Sharks have always thrived on being the underdog. I think the team will only get better as the tournament progresses and that’s one hell of an exciting prospect. We’ve got a tough game against the Valke on Friday, then we have a five-day team-building break. We’ll be looking to come back refreshed and ready to make a real big push for a home semi-final.”

By Ryan Vrede