7 Reasons Why Sharks Will Win Super Rugby Title
The last, and only, South African team to win the Super Rugby title was the Bulls.
The men from Pretoria lifted the trophy in 2010 when they beat the Stormers in the final, but they have had a shocking start to the 2014 campaign, while their rivals from Durban have shown a lot of promise.
Now coached by Jake White and under the stewardship off the field of Springbok great John Smit, the Sharks of Natal have won their first two matches and go into a bye week at the top of the early table.
There is a long way to go in this Super Rugby season, but assessing their rivals, their squad and their set-up this season, the Sharks have a lot to be optimistic about as they go hunting for their first Super Rugby crown.
Here are seven reasons why the Sharks will win the Super XV.
1. Jake White
The man who led South Africa to the 2007 World Cup is in charge of the Durban-based franchise, and he will bring all of his experience to bear on a talented crop of players.
White coached the Brumbies to the final of last year’s competition and in doing so proved he could form a group of players with a few star names into a formidable outfit.
Back at home, happier to be closer to his family and in charge of a team littered with several top Springbok players, White has the Sharks off to a great start with wins over the Bulls and Hurricanes.
2. The Squad
The Sharks’ Super XV squad is strong. They have 15 Springboks on the roster.
Their starting lineup contains Patrick Lambie, Francois Steyn and Odwa Ndungane in the backs, while they are spearheaded by skipper and hooker Bismarck du Plessis, with the all-action Ryan Kankowski at No. 8.
The spine of the team is a match for anyone in the competition.
3. The Scrum
A front row of the du Plessis brothers and Tendai Mtawarira is a frightening prospect at club level, and the Sharks proved it when they took the Hurricanes’ scrum to the cleaners in Round 2.
With a foundation like that, their talented back line will have a platform from which to threaten every other side in the competition.
4. The Aussies Say So
In a pre-season poll of the Australian franchise skippers in The Courier Mail, the Sharks came out on top as the side predicted to win the tournament.
Melbourne Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham said: "They’ve got a quality side that’s been together for a long time and with Jake White as coach I think he’ll do well there with them. If not them, maybe the Chiefs again. They’re still going strong and they’ve kept the same side together."
And Waratahs captain Dave Dennis said, "The Sharks. They’re always there or thereabouts each year, Jake White’s gone back there, he knows South African rugby very well. I think the Chiefs and Crusaders will be around as well, but for a South African team the Sharks pose a pretty good threat."
5. The Fixture List
The Sharks don’t leave South African soil until May.
By that time, they should have established themselves at the top of the Super XV table, with seven of their first nine games in their hometown of Durban.
They will be well into the winning habit as they embark on a tour of Australia and New Zealand, which sees them face the Rebels, Brumbies, Crusaders and Blues.
In those four games, we’ll learn a lot about their chances of going all the way.
6. They Are the Best Franchise in South Africa
The Sharks are red-hot favourites to finish as the best side in South Africa.
The Cheetahs have a smattering of Springboks talent but nowhere near the quality of the Sharks, while the Lions, who have surprised everyone with two wins in their first two games, are probably the weakest side in the South African conference.
It all points to the Sharks winning their conference and ensuring safe passage through to Week 2 of the finals.
7. John Smit
South Africa's 2007 World Cup-winning captain has swapped the front row for the boardroom. John Smit is the new chief executive of the Sharks and has already made his mark with the appointment of his old coach Jake White.
If he can bring the leadership skills he showed on the field to the stewardship of the Sharks franchise, he could oversee their best season ever in Super Rugby.