'It will be a good year for the Sharks'
'It will be a good year for the Sharks'SHARE
They may have lost in their last three finals – in two successive Currie Cup tournaments and the 2012 Super Rugby season – but the Sharks are adamant they are capable of breaking their recent trophy drought.
As the most successful team never to have won a Super Rugby crown – runners-up four times, reached the semifinals on three more occasions and the preliminary play-offs on another – the Sharks feel they have a squad that can finally go all the way.
Franco van der Merwe, on loan from the Lions, did not hesitate to install the Durban-based franchise as one of the tournament's pre-season favourites.
"They haven't lost many players, just one or two," Van der Merwe said, when asked about the Sharks' prospects.
"Yes, there is an injury or two, but I think this team is going to do well.
"It's up to us [the players] to do the job.
"The team has a lot of character, they played in the Super Rugby and two Currie Cup Finals and there is a lot of experience; also the squad hasn't changed much in the last couple of years.
"I really think it's going to be a good year for the Sharks."
Despite his new surroundings, Van der Merwe feels at home and proclaims himself very happy with the professional setup at the Sharks.
"It's a very good setup here, the structures are good, the players look like they have a lot of fun, but in spite of that, they are working really hard, they're really professional and they are disciplined about their rugby," he told the Sharks' website.
"The Sharks are a great bunch of guys, I'm enjoying training and playing with them and really looking forward to the first game, I can't wait to play with guys who I've been playing against for the past couple of years."
The Sharks are now at the business end of their pre-season preparations for the 2013 Super Rugby tournament, with an intensive workload for the players as the tournament gets closer.
All the players returned after the festive season break, including the Springboks who were off after the conclusion of the end-of-year tour, and coach John Plumtree declared himself happy with the squad and the shape they are in.
"Our pre-season has been good, the boys have been really good," Plumtree said in an interview on the Sharks' website.
"We had a really nice block before Christmas and the boys came back after the break in pretty good condition – we're pretty happy with the body compositions – weights and body fat measurements.
"Anyone who was behind (which would be Boks who missed the November and December conditioning blocks) has had a hectic schedule to catch up, and by three weeks' time, everyone should be right."
The Sharks coach admits that, like every year, the previous season's assessment would identify areas they may feel could be improved upon.
"We've looked at changing a little of what we do – nothing drastic – shifting emphasis slightly. There are one or two areas of our game that we need to concentrate hard on, like the line-out with Franco van der Merwe coming in and Bismarck du Plessis unavailable; there has been a fair amount of work put in there. I guess you could say that our main emphasis has been on our conditioning though up to this point."
With Du Plessis out injured and only expected to be back after the start of the competition, it means an opportunity for others to play.
"Craig Burden has an opportunity to get a run of games now, he didn't get a lot of time last year in the Currie Cup because of the way the Springboks used him which was disappointing for him. Then Kyle Cooper showed me he is capable and played well at Currie Cup level and Monde Hadebe also had some good Currie Cup game time, so between the three of them there is some competition.
"Core skills are really important, throwing in obviously, and we'll be looking for the player that executes the basics the best. That's the message they've had and hopefully they'll be able to perform those basics really well which is really important to the game."
The hookers will get an opportunity in one of the warm-up matches, the first of which takes place against the Leopards at Woodburn Stadium in Pietermaritzburg on Friday, February 8.