The Sharks will play warm-up games against the Leopards and the Pumas ahead of the Super Rugby season.
The 2012 finalists will take on the Leopards at Woodburn Stadium in Pietermaritzburg on February 8 before they travel to Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit to play the Pumas a week later.
Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford said the team’s preparations are well under way. One consideration the coaching and fitness staff do have is keeping the players motivated and interested in training off the back of a gruelling conditioning programme in December.
Fitness work can be tough but there are other elements, like the brief skill sessions that are there to both keep skill levels high as well as to broaden the focus. And then there is something that not every other team can boast.
“We’re also quite lucky in that we have the beach which we can use with sessions to freshen up the players and change our environment,” he explains. “So with the field sessions and gym work, we are fortunate to have the Indian Ocean right here on our doorstep as a change of scenery.”
Butch James, who last played for the Sharks in 2007, is back with the Durban side and Bashford admits that having the Springbok World Cup-winning flyhalf around adds greatly to the vibe and talent in the squad given his personality and experience.
“Butch is a special person,” he says. “When I started in 2006, Butch was part of the squad and an integral part of the success we had in reaching the 2007 final and it’s great to have him back. He’s good fun to be around and a world class player who has played at the top level.”
Aside from James and Franco van der Merwe, who comes to the Sharks on loan from the Lions, as well as some youngsters coming through, the Sharks have a very settled side which Bashford agrees is a very good thing.
“Most of the youngsters that we have in our set-up - bar one or two - have had Super Rugby experience; it’s not like they have only played Currie Cup rugby.
“Our so-called youngsters aren’t young anymore, they have experience, they’ve been around for a while, they’re going into their second and even third Super Rugby campaigns and they’ve had a whole lot of Currie Cup rugby behind them, so they’ve grown a lot.
“For us, from a depth perspective, we’re probably looking as good as we have in a number of years. We should be in a position – if all goes according to plan – that in almost every position, we can freshen players up along the way.
“I think the secret of a successful side is having the depth to be able to do that. If you end up having to play players every week over the duration of the competition, by the time you get to the finals, you will find players who are out on their feet.
“Keeping everyone fresh and on their toes is a big part of the strategy and we’ve been fortunate to have players coming through in the Currie Cup; we’re pretty comfortable with the depth we have in almost every position.”
The Sharks’ ambitions for this year’s Super Rugby haven’t as yet been discussed by the team, but given how they finished last year’ tournament, there is only one thing they can hope to achieve.
“We haven’t discussed our mindset and what we want to accomplish next year, but we’ve been in the final this year and made the play-offs last year and the one thing we haven’t done is win this competition. I’m quite sure when the players sit around the table, it’s going to be a huge part of their discussion and strategy planning ahead.
“But you have to be mindful in rugby that it is one step before the other and don’t get caught out along the way by looking at the final prize. There is a lot of rugby to be played and we need to make sure that we prepare properly, ensure that we remain injury free and get the players as strong and fit as we can before the start.”
Dale Chadwick, Jannie du Plessis, Wiehahn Herbst, Tendai Mtawarira, Julian Redelinghuys, Craig Burden, Kyle Cooper, Monde Hadebe, Bismarck du Plessis, Anton Bresler, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jaundre Marais, Peet Marais, Franco van der Merwe, Willem Alberts, Jacques Botes, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel (captain), Jean Deysel, Ryan Kankowski, Francois Kleinhans, Lubabalo Mtembu.
Backs: Louis Ludik, Gouws Prinsloo, Riaan Viljoen, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Sibusiso Sithole, Meyer Bosman, Paul Jordaan, Wandile Mjekevu, Frans Steyn, Tim Whitehead, Heimar Williams, Patrick Lambie, Butch James, Cobus Reinach, Charl McLeod, Conrad Hoffmann.
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