For Vodacom Man of the Match against the Highlander Andre Esterhuizen, this has been a season where he has shown his true potential as not only as a physically imposing player, but a multi-faceted one with variable play.
Although he previously showed himself to be a strong ball-carrier and combative defender, this season has seen him break out of the mould and contribute in many more ways on the field.
“I’ve been feeling good about this season, but any talk of my performance needs to take into consideration my team-mates and I can’t perform if my forwards aren’t performing,” he explains.
“They’ve been on the front foot which means the backs can play a bit and I can get over the advantage line.”
Playing in Japan allowed him to express himself more, where he was able to hone his skills in a less pressured environment, work more on improving his overall contribution, and take that into his Cell C Sharks commitments.
“The game was a lot faster there and we ran from everywhere, even our 22, so we ended up playing more rugby rather than kicking for territory. That helped me, as did doing a lot of extra training because we had a lot of time on our hands so I worked a lot with some of the coaches there, like Carlos Spencer.
“I won’t say my game evolved there, but I did pick up a lot of confidence playing there. There wasn’t a negative mindset where you can get severely punished for making a mistake [conceding a try for instance] like in Super Rugby. That freedom gave me the confidence to try what I wanted and when I returned to Durban, I felt comfortable doing those things.”
Although the result against the Highlanders was hugely impressive and the result emphatic, the big centre admits that they can’t leave tries out on the field as they did.
“In the future we need to be harder on ourselves, there were three or four tries we should’ve scored and in closer games, that could be the difference between winning and losing. So execution is something we’ll continue working on.”
This weekend the Cell C Sharks travel to Pretoria to take on the Vodacom Bulls in our return leg match, and an opportunity to reinforce the compliments received after the Highlanders’ match.
“It’s going to be another tough battle – like the first round match – but we’re looking forward to it.
“After that loss here at JONSSON KINGS PARK, we felt humiliated and we feel we have something to prove, we want to go there and do to them what they did to us.”
And just as the Cell C Sharks want to bounce back after that first round loss to the Vodacom Bulls, so the Vodacom Bulls will be looking to return to winning ways after losing to the DHL Stormers this past weekend.
“They will want to bounce back, but we haven’t forgotten what happened when we last played them, we will take confidence from this past weekend and build on that. If we can do that, we will have a good weekend.”
With the South African Conference as tight as it is, the emphasis is on winning matches as the competition reaches the closing stages and the knock-outs. Will the Cell C Sharks be content with an ugly one-point win, or will they look to play attractive rugby (like they did against the Highlanders)?
“Anyone would take a win, ugly or not, especially with the conference as tight as it is. We want to win every game. There’s a massive conference battle with all five teams still in the running, so the emphasis is on playing winning rugby.”