Sharks Circling The 2009 Super 14 Title.

James MortimerAnalyst IApril 8, 2009

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 28:  Adam Ashley-Cooper of the Brumbies is tackled by JP Pietersen (R) and Adrian Jacobs of Sharks during the Super 14 Round 7 match between Sharks and Brumbies at ABSA Stadium on March 28, 2009 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Their victory over the Hurricanes last round cemented the Durban based side in the top four.  While it was a significant margin, it was the manner in which the Sharks adjusted in the second half that impressed. 


They were having little success in outmuscling the Hurricanes, whom, despite their mixed form, remain a formidable opponent.


So the Sharks shifted their tactics, tactically kicking the Hurricanes into mistakes, backed by an all round game plan that appears unmatched by any other Super 14 outfit.


A 16 point win has led many Sharks supporters to claim that they smashed the Wellington based outfit, though the players did not regard it as such.


But to absorb the first half pressure thrown at them and come out victorious shows the opportunism, poise and strategic aplomb that may win them this championship. 


It was also a significant reversal on their 13-34 loss to the Hurricanes last year.


The 2007 Super 14 Runners up and current Currie Cup champions are but 10 competition points from securing a guaranteed semifinal spot (history shows that 38-42 points confirms semi final participation). 


No other team has such an ideal closing run to their draw.  Their upcoming match against the cellar dwelling Cheetahs will be their last match away from home. 


They then host the Crusaders in Durban, before being the last team to have a bye, and finish with three more matches on home soil. 


It will, however, test the Sharks title mettle, with their closing opponents being the Highlanders, Waratahs, and Bulls—all teams that have calculable chances of reaching the top four. 


They will have to overcome the Kwa-Zulu Natal Sharks at fortress ABSA in Durban, where they haven’t lost in Super rugby since going down 10-21 to the Brumbies on the March 24 2007.


The Sharks are now legitimate title favourites, and rightfully so.


Their aberration to the Queensland Reds aside, they have looked in a different class so far this season. 


No apparent weaknesses are combined with an ability to adapt, but curiously, numbers don’t back this up.


Statistically (tries and points conceded aside) they are the worst defensive side in the competition, missing more tackles than any other side, and sitting mid range in all other pure rugby indicators.


But they do brandish a weapon that under the ELV’s especially, is all powerful. 


They are the best kicking team in the competition by a considerable margin, utilising kicking from hand more than any other team.  In a year where kicking in general play has generally been poor, the Sharks have been the benchmark team.


This is backed up by the second best lineout of all the sides (shaded only by the Brumbies). 


But beyond this, they are uncompromising, and have a developed winning culture. 


A Springbok front row is doing the damage in the tight.  Captain Johann Muller is ruling the air in the line outs, and Ryan Kankowski is having a stellar season, showcasing the depth South Africa have with their loose forwards, especially at number eight.


Rory Kockett is in outstanding form, forming a partnership with the rapidly improving Francois Steyn that is marshaling a backline laden with Test players. 


Stefan Terblanche is catching the eyes of selectors with his assured performances from the back, shading the incumbent fullbacks.


If they secure a home semifinal, they will be nearly impossible to stop.


It will take a drop of form, and a sharp lift from the other sides to halt an impending Shark attack on the 2009 Super 14 title.