Sharks eyeing the high road
Sharks eyeing the high roadSHARE
The Sharks are determined to make a more convincing start to the Super Rugby season after having to fight their way into the play-offs last year.
The Durban outfit struggled to find enough early season consistency in 2012 and found themselves scraping into the knock-out phase which resulted in a taxing travel schedule during the play-offs that saw them fall at the final hurdle against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Captain Keegan Daniel is adamant that his side have learnt a valuable lesson from that experience, and has called on them to start the competition on the front foot despite the notoriously humid and slippery conditions in Durban early in the year.
"We were consistent in the fact that we made finals, but in terms of our performances we probably weren't as consistent as we would have liked," the skipper said.
"We slipped up at times in the last competition, which put us under pressure towards the end. We want to be a lot more consistent in the way we perform in the games early on this season," he explained.
A notable absentee from full training was Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who remains sidelined after undergoing surgery to fix ligament damage in his right knee.
However, Frans Steyn is easing his way back to full swing after missing the last three months of the year through an ankle injury.
"Frans has started running again and is doing pretty well, he's right on schedule," Daniel said. "But Bismarck will take a bit longer, he had a big injury, but the medical team is working hard with him."
The Sharks also have two new experienced faces in their ranks in the shape of veteran flyhalf Butch James and lock Franco van der Merwe.
Daniel feels that the pair will add huge value to a side already filled with talent.
"Butch has been around, he's been here before and will fit back in easily and will add a lot of value. It's also good to have Franco here, he will add invaluable experience to the second row.
"You know we struggled a little there in the past. He's captained the Lions and has been in the Springbok squad recently, so it's good to have someone like that in the tight five," he added.
Despite the considerable talent pool in Durban, Daniel refuses to take anything for granted and knows his team will have to work hard to gain some early momentum this year.
"You can look at any squad and say it's a great squad with good depth, but at the end of the day you've got to put it all together on the field.
"But we do have some good young players who've come through nicely and spent one or two seasons playing Currie Cup or Super Rugby. Then the likes of Butch and Franco are just going to add to that," he said.
Coach John Plumtree's men play pre-campaign warm-up matches against the Leopards in Pietermaritzburg on February 8 and the Pumas in Nelspruit on February 15, before launching their Super Rugby season against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on February 23.