With three rounds of Vodacom Super Rugby action before the play-offs, and the fight that exists to make it into the knockout round, there are plenty of permutations for many of the teams hoping to continue their participation beyond the next fortnight.
For the Cell C Sharks, that starts with the Lions up in Joburg on Saturday afternoon, and continues with the Cheetahs before ending against the Sunwolves in two weeks’ time.
Director of Rugby Gary Gold is at pains to point out, however, that they’re not looking much further than this weekend, nor at what’s happening with the other teams. That they have a task to complete. A very difficualt one at that.
“This is just a game that we have to win, it’s as simple as that,” he explains. “The other permutations are completely out of our control. For us, what’s important after the break, is that we’re back to our best and understanding how massive the challenge is going to be.”
In-form Lions players were rewarded with Test call-ups for the series against the Springboks and Gold agrees that this will be a factor as far as the Lions’ confidence goes.
“For sure, added to the way they played in their last match against the Bulls and then more thn 50% being rewarded with Springbok caps. They will also take confidence from helping the Boks beat the Irish too, and rightly so.
“They’re a lethal team, these guys are definitely the biggest threat and include the five New Zealand teams in that. They’ve made Emirates Airlines Park a fortress and it’s a very difficult place to play.”
Gold admits that the Cell C Sharks have a huge amount of respect for the Lions and the way they play. “We’ve always said the New Zealand teams set the benchmark; it’s now nice to have a South African team setting the benchmark.”
He adds that looking back on the first round clash with the Lions, there were lessons learned and some good and bad to take out of their own performance. “Our preparation has been done and now we have to go out and execute against a team that play at a huge pace and force you into making errors.
“It’s a fun challenge, but we’re excited; we’re up for it.”
Scrumhalf Michael Claassens explains that what is key to success this weekend is to build on what they have done right and fix the errors from that earlier match against the Lions.
“We’ve looked at the video and there are a lot of things we can take out of that first round game, things we’ve worked on,” he explains.
Defence was one area, but it has been good and he admits that they take confidence out of this.
“We know we have to be better this time. Against a team like the Lions, your defence has to be on point because they’re such a good attacking side and they throw the ball around, having a go from everywhere.”
The Cell C Sharks know that this could be a season-defining match.