Sharks captain Keegan Daniel believes the overall growth of the squad has been key in the team’s successful season.
The Sharks enjoyed a successful Super Rugby campaign this year, which saw them qualify for their first tournament final since 2007.
Despite losing several key players to Springbok duty and injury thereafter, they managed to carry that form into the Currie Cup, claiming top spot on the log and securing a place in their third consecutive domestic title-decider.
Daniel believes the gelling of the squad has been central in achieving this success.
‘There were a couple of young guys playing in their first or second season that have really grown,’ Daniel told keo.co.za.
‘If you’d compare the players they were two years ago to the players they are now, they’ve not only matured as rugby players but as individuals too. It’s shown in the way they’ve reacted in pressure situations and in big games.
‘We also have a strong senior core in the squad, with experienced guys, like Jacques Botes and Jean Deysel, and the Springboks who have returned to the team over the last couple of weeks. That leadership has been pivotal in the team’s growth. The message to the team has remained the same throughout the year, and the players have responded really well.’
The Sharks last won a final in 2010, when they beat WP 30-10 in the Currie Cup showdown.
The men from Durban were thrashed 37-6 in the Super Rugby final by the Chiefs in Hamilton, after a strenuous touring schedule during the play-off rounds. They were also beaten 42-16 by the Golden Lions at Ellis Park in last season’s Currie Cup final.
However, Daniel believes home-ground advantage will boost their chances against WP this Saturday. The Sharks have not lost a match against a South African team at Kings Park in Super Rugby and Currie Cup this year.
‘Over the last two years, we weren’t as consistent and it’s tough to win a final away from home,’ said Daniel. ‘You do have a slight edge when you do host a final.
‘We travelled to the Lions last year and were under par. We’ve learnt lessons from that game. In this year’s Super Rugby, we gave ourselves a chance. But at the end of the day the travel was just too much.’
By Gareth Duncan, in Durban