Settled. Stable. Successful. Those words sum up the Sharks to a tee.
Of all the South African franchises they have the most settled squad.
It is not meant as an insult to the players, but the departure of the likes of Garth April, Tristan Blewett, Michael Claassens (retired), Keegan Daniel (retired), Johan Deysel, Ross Geldenhuys, Stephan Lewies and Franco Marais will hardly register on the Richter scale.
The most significant loss, that of Lewies, has been offset by the signing of talented youngster Ruben van Heerden from the Bulls.
Throughout the squad they have players that have been in the system for a few years – plenty of experience and a good spread of youthful exuberance.
It is in the pack where they have the most depth.
There is a front row with players like Thomas du Toit, Coenie Oosthuizen, Tendai Mtawarira and Armand van der Merwe, backed by a second row that can draw on Hyron Andrews, Ruan Botha, Ruben van Heerden and Tyler Paul.
The back row can call on Paul (where he played most in 2018), Jacques Vermeulen, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez and Philip van der Walt.
In the backline they have Springbok quality in Louis Schreuder (as captain), Robert du Preez, Lukhanyo Am, André Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi and Sibusiso Nkosi.
It is thus not surprising they believe they can finally end nearly three decades of Super Rugby drought – which has seen them lose in five finals (including 1994 Super 10 Final against Queensland), losing semifinalists four times and reaching the preliminary play-offs on three other occasions.
The last two years – in Super Rugby and Currie Cup – the Sharks reached the play-off stages every time.
They finally kicked on in the Currie Cup Final last year, beating Western Province at Newlands.
They are confident they can carry that form into Super Rugby in 2019.
And they know how to beat New Zealand teams.
They beat the Chiefs, Highlanders and Blues (in Auckland). They lost to the Hurricanes (37-38 in Napier) and the Crusaders (in the quarterfinal in Christchurch).
The cherry on top for the Sharks is the acquisition of David Williams as the attack coach – a man who had considerable success with Bath and London Irish in England, as well as the Southern Kings and Cheetahs.
South African Conference Placing: First
Player of the Year: Armand van der Merwe
Rookie of the Year: Ruben van Heerden
Super Rugby Placing: Runners-up
In: Ruben van Heerden (from the Bulls)
Out: Garth April (to Shining Arcs & Bulls), Tristan Blewett (New Orleans Gold), Michael Claassens (retired), Keegan Daniel (retired), Johan Deysel (Colomiers), Ross Geldenhuys (Bay of Plenty), Stephan Lewies (Lions), Franco Marais (Gloucester).
Best finish: Runners-up in 1994, 1996, 2001, 2007, 2012
Worst finish: Twelfth in 2000 and 2005
Squad (provisional): Thomas du Toit, Mzamo Majola, John-Hubert Meyer, Coenie Oosthuizen, Tendai Mtawarira, Armand van der Merwe, Mahlatse Ralepelle, Hyron Andrews, Ruan Botha, Jean Droste, Gideon Koegelenberg, Ruben van Heerden, Tyler Paul, Jacques Vermeulen, Wian Vosloo, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Philip van der Walt, Louis Schreuder (captain), Cameron Wright, Curwin Bosch, Robert du Preez, Lukhanyo Am, André Esterhuizen, Marius Louw, Jeremy Ward, Makazole Mapimpi, Lwazi Mvovo, Sibusiso Nkosi, Kobus van Wyk, Leolin Zas, Rhyno Smith, Courtney Winnaar.
By Jan de Koning @rugby365
Rugby World Cup City Guides – Kumamoto:
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