Adam Wakefield

Sharks have it all to do

The Sharks will be enduring another long flight, this time to New Zealand, in their quest to rewrite the book for the South African team that suffers the least from jet lag, while still winning.

Their victory against the Stormers was fully deserved and while it deprives South Africa of a home final, arguably the Sharks are better equipped for the problems the Chiefs will pose. They have the most versatile pack in the country, while their backs have shown more nous than the majority of their South African counterparts. The hand injury to Tim Whitehead is a blow, but Paul Jordaan and Sharks wunderkind Pat Lambie have both been included in the squad to the final.

From Sona Taumalolo, Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams, Aaron Cruden to Tim Nanai-Williams, the Chiefs have class all over the park and in Williams and Cruden the most lethal 10-12 combination in the competition. Williams’ form has been outstanding this year. He has matured into an excellent union player, which makes his decision to pursue a short-term deal in Japan, then go back to league, all the more disappointing. He has no parallel in the world of union at the moment.

Cruden is now almost if not on the same level as the master Daniel Carter, with his move from the Hurricanes now looking inspired. The Chiefs through the likes of Taumalolo and hooker Mahonri Schwalger are rock solid up front, with new All Black Retallick, in combination with the experienced Craig Clarke, bringing that hardened edge that has often given Cruden, and No 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, front-foot ball, which allows the likes of Williams to hit the gain line at pace.

Defensively, coach Dave Rennie has also ensured the Chiefs are tough to break down as proven in their semi-final against the Crusaders (though the Crusaders team bathing in butter helped), where the Waikato team showed Stormers-like skills in making sure the Crusaders never reached their sparkly best.

The biggest challenge, as illustrated above, will be the travel factor. The Sharks have decided to spend some time in Australia before flying to New Zealand on Thursday. The Sharks flew 11 152 km to Brisbane to face the Reds, flew back the same distance to Durban before flying to Cape Town, and now will fly another 11 000 km to Australia, before flying another 2 000 odd kilometres from the east coast of Australia to Hamilton. Then, they have to come back to South Africa. That’s over 40 000 kilometres.

If the Sharks do win it, it will be trip worthy or a movie, or at the least, a Nando’s advert.

A special mention to Eben Etzebeth for this hand-off-slash-bounce-slash-the-bus-is-full of human battleship Bismarck du Plessis:

Picture courtesy of RedStar Communications.