Sharks keep it real

Dick Muir is realistic when assessing the Sharks’ chances of success in the Vodacom Super 14 this year.

Speaking at the Sharks media launch at Sun City on Friday, Muir admitted his squad wasn’t in the same league as the likes of the Bulls and Crusaders.

“I’m not going to come out and say that we’ll win the Super 14, because then people will laugh at me,” he told keo.co.za. “The fact is we have a side full of youngsters that can be competitive if they do the basics well. Obviously a team like the Bulls – who reached the semi-finals last year – are in better shape than us and have more experienced players, which is why Saturday’s games will give us a good indication of how far we’ve come as a team.

“The fact is, it’s going to be an incredibly tough year for us, but I believe we can be competitive,” continued Muir. “We’ve had a three-phase approach to the season. Phase one, against the Leopards. Phase two, against the Bulls and phase three, against the Cats. By the time we play the Chiefs [in the first round] we should be ready.

Muir said his players would not be putting too much pressure on themselves going into the Super 14.

“As long as we go out there and give our best, I’ll be happy,” he said. “I want us to get away from the ‘win at all cost’ mentality. We must be able to walk into the changeroom after a game and hold our heads up high. We’re not thinking about relegation at this stage, even if the supporters are. It’s not even an option.”

The Sharks on Friday named their two sides to take on the Bully Boys. While Heyneke Meyer has opted to play his first-choice XV for the main game at 5pm, Muir has refused to reveal his Super 14 hand.

“We’ve brought up 36 guys and selected two evenly matched teams,” he said. “There are a number of combinations that we’ll be keeping a close eye on. Our decision-making was a concern in the Currie Cup, so I’m keen to see if we’ve improved in that area.”

Like Muir, Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl didn’t bother with the smoke and mirrors.

“Our performances last year weren’t good and we have to take it on the chin,” he said. “We’ve been working very hard since the end of the Currie Cup to make sure it doesn’t happen again in 2006. Everybody has been writing us off, which is a great challenge for us. We are apparently the worst of the South African teams and we have a chance to show the country and the world that that’s not the case. We believe we’ve gathered the best squad we possibly could and it’s all systems go.”

When asked what goals he had set for the Sharks, Van Zyl was frank. “We’ll be happy to finish in the top seven,” he said. “If we make the semi-finals then that would be a fantastic achievement. One thing is for sure though, we don’t want to finish last!”

Van Zyl finished off with a parting shot at the organisers of the Super 14. “We only have six home games this year, while other SA teams have seven. Apart from the financial knock we’ll take – as a home match can bring in R1-million – it could also have an impact on which team is relegated. I’m also not happy that we have to cross the Tasman Sea twice when on tour – we are the only side in the history of the tournament to do that two years in a row.”

Sharks teams to play Bulls at Sun City:

HAMMERHEADS XV
Greg Goosen, Odwa Ndungane, Grant Rees, Bradley Barritt, Craig Burden, Scott Spedding, Scott Mathie, Jaco Gouws, Braam Immelman, Solly Tyibilika, Johann Muller (c), Johan Ackermann, Danie Saayman, Skipper Badenhorst, Heinke van der Merwe.

RAGGIES XV
JP Pietersen, Dusty Noble, Gcobani Bobo, Andries Strauss, Brett Hennessey, Percy Montgomery, Ruan Pienaar, Jacques Botes, Nico Breedt, Warren Britz, Albert van den Berg, AJ Venter (c), Brent Moyle, Bismarck du Plessis, Deon Carstens.

RESERVES
Jody Jenneker, Pierre du Toit, Steven Sykes, Daniel Farani, Sandile Nxumalo and Henno Mentz