Writing for IOL Sport, Mark Keohane says that the Sharks have been a joy to behold this season.
I don’t live in KwaZulu-Natal and am very much an outsider to rugby in the region, but the Sharks have been my favourite team to watch in this year’s Super Rugby.
They have played with freedom, with a smile, with intent and with success.
They represent the future of South African rugby, in results and in representation when it comes to transformation.
My knowledge of Sharks coach Sean Everitt was limited but the new Sharks coach has quickly confirmed his status as a leader among South Africa, and the tournament’s, new coaches.
Everitt has impressed with his selections, with his frankness when discussing his selections, his players’ strengths and also his philosophy on the game.
Pre-season, Everitt confirmed that Curwin Bosch would be his starting No 10. He would not alternate Bosch between fullback and flyhalf, as had happened the year previously under coaching predecessor Robert du Preez.
Bosch suffered in selection, with Du Preez insistent in backing his son Robert jr as his premier flyhalf. Bosch’s form suffered, even though Du Preez experienced a horror season.
Everitt was quick to act on investing in Bosch, who had entertained a move to the Stormers in the off-season.
Everitt went on record to espouse the strengths of Bosch and said that the only way the player would flourish was if he was given the opportunity to play regularly in his favoured position.
The coach has been true to his word and Bosch has delivered.
Everitt also scouted wisely in the signing of Sikhumbuzo Notshe from the Stormers. He also made a call that the loose-forward would specialise as a No 8 and not be played in multiple roles, as had been the case in the Western Cape.
Notshe has been the star forward of the Sharks and one of the most influential forwards in the competition.
Ditto the signing from the Cheetahs of prop Ox Nche.
Another masterstroke was the appointment of Springboks World Cup-winning midfielder Lukhanyo Am as Sharks captain.
A year ago, I asked South African Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus about Am. His response was that Am was the first name in his starting Springbok backline. Erasmus said Am did so much in terms of leadership and organising defences that wasn’t always obvious to the supporter.
Everitt obviously agrees with Erasmus when it comes to Am and the results have vindicated this faith in the centre.
The selection of fullback Aphelele Fassi is another that has brought cheer to every rugby romantic.
Fassi plays the game with explosiveness and his attack has so much style.
He scores tries, makes tries, and is one of the hottest talents in the competition. He is also just 22 years old.
Everyone I speak to tells me the Sharks this season are either their favourite team or second favourite team, and they all agree that the Sharks are the team who have proven the easiest on the eye.
The Sharks also finally have a leadership that is more revolutionary than reactionary in chief executive Eduard Coetzee, who played for the Sharks before enjoying eight years in the French Top 14.
Coetzee has dedicated his leadership to making the Sharks the most transformed and commercially successful team, to complement an on-field success.
Diversity is the team’s recipe for success and it is inspiring to hear a CEO proudly proclaim that in his franchise, everyone sees colour and celebrates colour because they celebrate diversity and drive inclusivity.