The 'wake-up call' South African teams got in Europe
INTERVIEW: The Sharks hope to cement their United Rugby Championship top-four position with an Irish trilogy.
Sharks captain Thomas du Toit revealed that his team has come to terms with the requirements of playing against European opposition and hopes to kick on in the final run-in to the play-offs.
The 13-times capped Springbok said the Sharks have lofty aspirations, which include a home quarterfinal – which means dealing with the challenge of overcoming two more Irish outfits before the play-offs.
“I don’t think you should underestimate the value of a home quarterfinal,” Du Toit told a media scrum in Durban this week.
The Sharks started their URC campaign with a 17-42 loss to Munster at Thomond Park in Limerick in September last year.
Further losses to Glasgow Warriors and Cardiff were split by a win over Ospreys on the Durban-based team’s month-long tour to the north.
Last week they faced their second Irish team, the table-topping Leinster outfit, and walked away with a hard-earned 28-23 in.
On Saturday they host an equally tricky Connacht outfit and complete their league fixtures with a trip to Ravenhill Stadium in Belfast, where they finish a trio of Irish encounters against Ulster.
Connacht, Du Toit says, will present a very different challenge to what the other Irish provinces do.
“[Of the Irish teams], Munster, Ulster and Leinster probably have very similar tactics – in terms of their attack and defence.
“Connacht are a bit free [unstructured] in the way they play.
“They [other Irish teams] have a lot more structure than Connacht, but Connacht is one of the most physical sides in the competition.
“It is a big challenge for us, but we are very excited about facing them.
“They [the Irish sides] are very well trained, well-prepared teams.”
And they are going into full knock-out mode.
— The Sharks (@SharksRugby) April 26, 2022
“We’ll treat each game as if it’s our last game and the only opportunity we’re going to get, so the focus on the games is massive.
“We’re treating each game like a final and the value of a home quarter-final can’t be underestimated. We’re playing for that.”
Speaking about the initial struggles of the Sharks – and indeed all the South African teams – in the URC, the 26-year-old prop said the opening trip to Europe was truly a ‘wake-up call’.
“I think most of the SA teams felt like they had been given a punch in the face when the competition [URC] started,” Du Toit said.
“We did not know what to expect.
“However, now that we have sussed things out, it seems that most of the teams have turned the tide and said: ‘We are sticking to our guns’.
“We are sticking to what we as South Africans do well and they [the overseas teams] have to deal with that!”
He added that the impression that South African teams were always ‘on the wrong side’ of penalties counts were just part of the “natural progression” of the teams.