Johannesburg – The Sharks will place a huge emphasis on beating the Lions on Friday as they seek to continue their recovery, built up during the last fortnight, but in the United Rugby Championship.
This was the statement of intent from their No 8 Phepsi Buthelezi earlier this week, and it is clear that the Durban-based side have taken a hard and long look at themselves, each player doing a deep introspection in recent weeks.
The URC has been a bit of a disaster, to be honest, for a Sharks team that is so heavily-laden with Test veterans, experienced players, talented individuals, and galacticos. Yes, there have been extenuating circumstances – such as the infuriating non-availability of their Springboks at crucial times – but four wins and three losses to collect 19 points is a poor return.
Buthelezi was, therefore, forthright when asked about the squad’s current self-assessment ahead of the Lions clash earlier this week, saying: “We are not where we want to be, and that is something that we really want to change.
“We are really targeting this game, and the next couple of games in the URC. We really want to put our hands up and get to where we want to be in terms of where we are on the log. But it is not just about the log.
“It is also in terms of consistency, especially in the URC. We feel that we have been very inconsistent.
“We have put in some good performances and some really poor performances. That is something that we have really addressed over the past couple of weeks and it is something that we feel we will get right slowly but surely.”
It started off brightly for the Sharks, as was expected, with away victories over Parma and the Dragons in late September and early October. It is since then that the roller-coaster ride really started with sharp curves, highs and steep slopes.
In that period, in the URC, the Sharks were hammered by Leinster, beat Glasgow Warriors, lost to the Bulls, suffered humiliation against Cardiff, and won a hard-fought victory over Ospreys. They then beat Harlequins and Bordeaux in the Champions Cup.
The next week – starting with the Lions on Friday and then the Bulls, both at Kings Park – should, however, give a clearer picture of how far they have come and how far they still need to go under director of rugby Neil Powell.
“We know that it is going to be very physical (against the Lions). Yes, you want to beat the overseas teams, but you also want to win your local games,” Buthelezi said.
“The Lions are on a good run at the moment. They have just come off a really good win against Stade Francais, so we know that they are also on the up.
“We really feel that, as a team, we haven’t really shown the world – and especially South Africa – what we can really do. On Friday, we really want to go out there and make our fans proud.”
In spite of the ups and downs his team have endured, the 23-year-old is enjoying a positive 2022, and hopes to continue his form in the New Year to help the Sharks achieve their ultimate objective.
“I am in a very good place,” he said.
“I am also fortunate to be a part of such an amazing squad, and such an amazing group of coaches. Everyone around me is supporting and backing me.
“With us getting our Springboks back – even when they are not around – our squad is very competitive … I am going to continue taking it game-by-game and working really hard on being consistent as a player, as a leader and as a member of the squad.
“Hopefully, we can get to a place where we start lifting trophies as the Sharks.”