It’s knock-out time as the Cell C Sharks take on the Crusaders in Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby quarter-finals in Christchurch, with a monumental, but achievable goal ahead of us.
Having an unchanged line-up from last week certainly helps with momentum as the team will look to match and better their lofty opponents, install as favourites.
“It was an easy decision to keep the same team,” explained head coach Robert du Preez from the team’s base in New Zealand.
“The boys really did well against the Jaguares and we want to keep the continuity going for this game.”
Beast Mtawarira earns his 150th Super Rugby, coming soon after achieving a century of Test caps for the Springboks against England in June. He has become an institution and an icon in Sharks and South African rugby since making his debut at the Shark Tank in 2007.
“Beast has been fantastic for us this year, his record speaks for itself,” du Preez admitted. “He’s an inspiration for all the boys in the team and he has unbelievable leadership skills to go with the great rugby he’s played this year. I’m sure he will be very keen to play really well on Saturday as he celebrates his 150th cap for the Cell C Sharks.”
Going into this game against the Crusaders, knowing that his team has played exceptionally well against New Zealand sides this year is cause for confidence for the coach.
“The guys like playing against New Zealand teams, it’s brought the best out in us, but we know we’re playing a formidable side that has been playing really good rugby the whole season. Their record speaks for itself, but this is a one-off game and we’re going to give it our best shot.
“We’re here to beat the odds.”
Winning 14 from 16 games and having topped the log, not to many opponents managed to crack the code against the Crusaders this year. They lost their games to the Highlanders and Hurricanes, both of which were away from home. But this is a team that has dominated the competition and the secret to winning was in taking the game to the defending champions and not allowing them to dictate.
Du Preez admitted that being reactive to the Crusaders was not the way to go about beating them.
“For us, it’s going to be important to make sure that we don’t just go out there to defend, we have to get the ball in hand and put phases together and really go there and attack. We have absolutely nothing to lose and on Saturday, we’re going there to play. Everyone in the team is up for it.”
Having been in must-win mode over the past couple of weeks, the Cell C Sharks are in the right frame of mind to handle the pressure. But history has no bearing right now, even if we must defeat odds stacked in the hosts’ favour.
No South African team has won a knock-out match in New Zealand in 12 attempts in the history of the competition.
Will this be unlucky 13 for the Crusaders?
“All the games we played in the past count for nothing right now and when this team performs and plays a team like the Crusaders, it brings the best out of us,” said the coach.
“If we play like we expect we will, then anything can happen.”