Aside from what could maybe be excused as an injury-induced hiccup against the Hurricanes, the Sharks were brilliant on tour, winning 3/4, and promised a lot for the rest of the tournament. Their return to home ground to face the touring Jaguares is a perfect test of their resolve, and will set the tone for the remainder of their tournament.
Saturday’s match against the Jaguares will be tough for the Sharks, probably one of their tougher home games, returning from a tour that will undoubtedly have drained them to an Argentinian side settled in South Africa and gaining momentum after pumping the Bulls at Loftus. While the Sharks in 2020 have showed a fierce defensive capability, coupled with attacking prowess and precision, Saturday will test their ability to scrap it out. Perhaps the most important trait in rugby.
The South African conference has three sides vying for the table top spot, between the Stormers who currently top the log (17 points), but were abysmal against the Blues, the Jaguares (15 points), who have been strong but succumbed to the Stormers and the Sharks who have had only one home game but manage to stand just behind the Stormers at 16 points but now play seven of their remaining 11 games at home. If the Sharks can survive jet lag and fatigue and secure a win over the Jags on return, taking them to top of the table, there is no reason that they shouldn’t remain at the top, as they settle back in on home soil. Despite the great rugby the Sharks have played, scoring the second most tries thus far in the tournament (20), it is unlikely that Saturday will be a similar spectacle. Rather, Saturday will most probably see a brutal, physical scrap in humidity, determined by very few points. A perfect test for this Sharks side that promises so much.
The Sharks will by now have confidence in their attack, confidence in their defence and confidence in their combinations; with the likes of Lukhanyo Am and Andre Esterhuizen firing as a centre pairing, Aphilile Fassi coming into his own between the quality of Makazole Mapimpi, Madosh Tambwe and Lwazi Mvovo . What Saturday can give them, is confidence in their grit. If a team of the Sharks quality, on their run of form can also scrap it out and show heart, they are a dangerous force and South Africa’s best candidate for Super Rugby success.
The Jaguares will be tough up front and in collision, and pose the Sharks pack their biggest threat so far. Luckily, in a game that is likely to be characterised by penalties, the Sharks have not only their home crowd on their side, but a “home ref”, with Stuff.co.nz doing an in depth analysis of the huge penalty advantage that South African referees tend to give South African sides, noting at the time that “South African sides had only lost two of the last 29 penalty counts in the republic when refereed by a “home” official”.
The Sharks have South Africa gunning for them, Durban gunning for them and if history stays true to form, most probably the referee gunning for them – even if subconsciously. As tough a match as it will be, the reward will be so sweet if they are to fight out a win. And nothing suggest that they aren’t capable of it.