Sharks captain Warren Britz says the lessons his side learnt in their defeat to the Vodacom Cheetahs will benefit them should the teams meet in the semi-final.
That scenario is the most likely, as the Bloemfontein-based side need only one point from their match against the Vodacom Blue Bulls to secure a home semi-final and the Sharks are almost certain to finish in fourth place.
“I know it sounds crazy but we’ve come away from that game with lots of confidence,” he told keo.co.za. “We now have answers to questions about their gameplan and we’ve seen that [their gameplan] has little variation. They are very predictable.”
Britz added that if they did meet in the semi-final they will be “really confident of victory.”
“They rely heavily on the mistakes of the opposition. They’ll kick the ball into their opponents half and wait for you to run it back and then pounce on a mistake or turnover,” he said.
The Sharks were heavily criticised for abandoning the ball-in-hand approach that has characterised their play this season but Britz insisted that there was method to the perceived madness.
“They don’t create much chances from general play and that’s partly why we adopted the tactic of punting the ball back at them [last Saturday]. We wanted to see how they dealt with that transfer of pressure and I think it worked. At the end of the day, they scored no tries from general play and a kick separated the sides.”
He also said the game proved that his side were capable of adapting their tactics to nullify the opposition strengths and rejected the prevailing thought that the Sharks are a cavalier outfit.
“People think because we like to run the ball we are a bunch of loose cannons but that’s not the case. We showed on Saturday that we can we have variation to our play and that we can play a kicking game with the best of them.”
One area of concern for the Durban-based side will be their backline’s inability to break the defensive line from structured play in the last fortnight. Loose-forward Ryan Kankowski’s brilliant solo effort at the weekend was an isolated case and belies a backline who have looked static and undercooked.
Of the eight tries the Sharks have scored in the last two games, Kankowski has scored three. Against the Bulls, JP Pietersen scored from a turnover, Britz scored from a Ruan Pienaar charge down and only Adrian Jacobs’ try had some semblance of structure.
This trend continued in Bloemfontein, when a fortuitous bounce following a Kankowski up-and-under left the Cheetahs defence scattered, for Odwa Ndungane to score, while tries from Waylon Murray and Keegan Daniel can hardly be described as well constructed.
“Lots of the big teams do some in-depth video analysis of their opponents,” Britz said in defence of his impotent back division. “We’ve all played each other a couple of times now and it’s bound to get harder and harder to score as the tournament progresses.
“But Dick [Muir] is always coming up with new ideas for our backs and I sure we’ll improve that aspect of our play and rekindle the unpredictability that we had earlier in the year.”
When asked what the Sharks would want to achieve from their game against the Valke on Saturday, Britz was decisive.
“We want to build momentum going into the play-offs. There’s no way we’ll underestimate the Valke but our vision is to fine-tune those aspects of our game that might not quite be right yet.
“We want to go into the semi-finals knowing that we are playing at our fullest potential.”
By Ryan Vrede