Chasing greatness

SIMON BORCHARDT, writing in SA Rugby magazine, says the Sharks must aim to emulate the Bulls.

The Sharks have lifted the Currie Cup twice in three seasons. Now they need to win a Super Rugby title.

No amount of domestic success will erase the painful memories of 2007, when the Sharks lost 20-19 to the Bulls in the Super 14 final at Kings Park. Had Frans Steyn kicked the conversion of Albert van den Berg’s late try or booted the ball into touch after the hooter, or referee Steve Walsh spotted Wikus van Heerden’s transgression in the move leading up to Bryan Habana’s try, the Sharks would have won that game, but they didn’t and their record in Super Rugby finals remains zero from three.

As the Bulls have shown, good teams win the Currie Cup, but only great ones win a Super Rugby title. The reality is that southern hemisphere franchises are now judged on their Super Rugby campaigns, just as European football clubs are judged on theirs in the Champions League. Look at Chelsea, who have won three English Premier League titles since Roman Abramovich bought the club, but have yet to win the Champions League (they suffered similar heartbreak to the Sharks when they lost to Manchester United on penalties in the 2008 final). And Abramovich will not be satisfied with the return on his investment until they do.

The good news for Sharks fans is that their team has an excellent chance of becoming Super Rugby champions next year. They have a powerful pack that dominates the set pieces and collisions, backs who can play an attacking, ball-in-hand style of play that is perfectly suited to the new law interpretations, a good tactical kicking game and an almost impenetrable defence.

However, in order for the Sharks to break their Super Rugby duck, you feel they will need to top the South African conference and earn more log points than the teams that finish first in the Australian and New Zealand sections so that if they do reach another final, it will be at Kings Park. Hosting this year’s Currie Cup decider gave the Sharks a massive advantage, as they admitted afterwards, while the Stormers/Western Province discovered just how difficult it is to win a trophy away from home.

The Sharks will be tested mentally if they reach another Super Rugby final (the ‘choker’ tag will probably crop up again considering what happened in 2007) but by winning the Currie Cup in 2008 and 2010 they have proven that they can handle the pressure of the big occasion and even thrive on it. They will need to do so again in 2011 if they hope to build a legacy to match the Bulls’.