Durban – Sharks assistant coach Nick Easter believes a number of factors have contributed to their recent resurgence in form.
The Sharks struggled earlier in the season, suffering bad losses at home to the Stormers (16-11), Bulls (19-16), Jaguares (51-17) and Reds (21-14).
But there was a change of fortunes on their recent trip to Australasia, where the Sharks beat the Waratahs 23-15 in Sydney, drew 21-all with the Crusaders in Christchurch, before a narrow 29-23 loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Last weekend’s 27-17 home win over the Lions left them second in the SA Conference and sixth on the overall log and confident heading into Saturday’s encounter against the Hurricanes at Kings Park.
“The guys have been continually striving to improve this season,” Easter told the Sharks’ official website. “There were a few new systems and foundations put in place at the start of the year and it takes time to bed them in.
“We also spent a lot of time together on tour and made good use of that time. We were together, had the tools, there weren’t any distractions and it wasn’t just about rugby, the players got the opportunity to understand each other. We bonded well and that creates trust when you’re under pressure and you start to care for one another. We were disappointed not to beat the Crusaders and should have won it but when you’re in the contest, you’re doing something right.”
The Sharks have enjoyed good form against the New Zealand sides in particular and Easter puts this down to the age-old competitiveness between two proud rugby nations.
“There’s an intense healthy rivalry between South African and New Zealand sides, there’s something exciting about playing a team from another country, with different philosophies and styles.
The Sharks rise in form may not be purely attributable to the return to action from injury of powerful and influential players like Ruan Botha, Jean-Luc du Preez and Philip van der Walt, but they have certainly contributed in great measure to the team’s cause since coming back into the side.
“We’ve had to use the whole squad a lot this year, which is great for the union, but when you get quality players like that, it just bolsters the team,” Easter added.
“Ruan has been fantastic with his leadership and physicality; he’s a calm head under pressure. Philip is another calm guy who’s got really stuck in and Jean-Luc has massive X-factor as far as the physicality is concerned and he gives great belief to the forward pack.
“You get those top quality players back, it makes a big difference.”
As a former flank himself, Easter has been impressed with the quality and effectiveness of the Sharks loose-forward combination. “It’s exciting working with these guys and their potential. We’re still not there in terms of maximising and getting the best out of them, but there have been massive improvements collectively and individually this year and that’s what we continue to do, every single week.”
Looking ahead to the Hurricanes game, Easter warned: “They’ll be highly motivated. They’re familiar with Durban, John Plumtree played and coached here, so this isn’t foreign territory for them.”