SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW 2018: In the third instalment of our 15-part build-up to the season we start with the South African Conference and look at the Sharks.
It must the most undesirable moniker: The most successful team never to have won Super Rugby.
There is another sobriquet that fits the bill: ‘Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.’
The Sharks has been runners-up five times, losing semifinalists four times and reached the preliminary play-offs (or quarterfinals) on another two occasions.
That is why the big question every year is: ‘Will the Sharks get the monkey off their collective backs?’
Like all teams, at the start of the season, the Sharks have ambitions to go all the way.
There was some clear-sighted recruitment in the off-season – most notably in the coaching department.
Robert du Preez (senior) not only lured his son (Robert junior) back ‘home’ – to shore up the flyhalf stocks – but the arrival of former Springbok centre and Bok assistant coach Dick Muir, as well former Bok flyhalf Braam van Straaten, will give the Sharks some interesting options.
Du Preez, senior, said their success in 2018 will hinge on using the squad “effectively”.
Muir, in particular, can improve the Sharks’ attack – after defence was the cornerstone of their march to the Super Rugby play-offs and Currie Cup Final last year.
“It’s great to have people like that here, with great experience,” Du Preez senior said of the additions to his coaching staff.
“Dick’s presence here was much-needed, he adds balance.”
That balance – between attack and defence – may just be the catalyst that will see the Sharks shed the bridesmaid’s tag.
As they showed in both Super Rugby and the Currie Cup in 2017, they have a pack of forwards capable of mixing it with the best.
Their backline skills, decision-making and tactics are what cost them at crucial stages in their campaigns.
Now they may have the X-factor that could turn them into a championship team.
Will it happen in 2018? Only time will tell.
Best finish: Runners-up in 1994, 1996, 2001, 2007, 2012
Worst finish: Twelfth in 2000 and 2005
In: Robert du Preez (Stormers), Ross Geldenhuys (Kings), Gideon Koegelenberg (Zebre), Makazole Mapimpi (Cheetahs), Tyler Paul (Kings), Louis Schreuder (Kings), Armand van der Merwe (Lions), Cameron Wright (Montpellier), Leolin Zas (Stormers).
Out: Lourens Adriaanse (Pau), Stephan Coetzee (Kings), Jean Deysel (Ulster), Rowan Gouws (Kings), Francois Kleynhans (Pumas), Pat Lambie (Racing 92), Khaya Majola (Kings), Odwa Ndungane (retired), Etienne Oosthuizen (Lyon), Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints), Sibusiso Sithole (Kings), Hanco Venter (released), Clément Poitrenaud (retired), Coenie Oosthuizen (injured), Inny-Christian Radebe (released).
Forwards: Armand van der Merwe, Coenraad Oosthuizen, Mahlatse Ralepelle, Daniel du Preez, Franco Marais, Gideon Koegelenberg, Hyron Andrews, Jacques Vermeulen, Jean Droste, Jean-Luc du Preez, John-Hubert Meyer, Juan Schoeman, Keegan Daniel, Kerron van Vuuren, Khuta Mchunu, Lubabalo Mtembu, Mzamo Majola, Philip van der Walt, Ross Geldenhuys, Ruan Botha (captain), Stephan Lewies, Tendai Mtawarira, Thomas du Toit, Tyler Paul, Wian Vosloo.
Backs: Andre Esterhuizen, Cameron Wright, Courtney Winnaar, Curwin Bosch, Garth April, Grant Williams, Jeremy Ward, Johan Deysel, Jacobus van Wyk, Leolin Zas, Louis Schreuder, Lukhanyo Am, Lwazi Mvovo, Makazole Mapimpi, Marius Louw, Michael Claassens, Rhyno Smith, Robert du Preez, Sibusiso Nkosi, Tristan Blewett.
By Jan de Koning
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