South Africa's Sharks a great white hope
Greg Growden and ESPN Staff
February 14, 2013
Sharks coach John Plumtree (left) pushed his team all the way to the 2012 final. © Getty Images
The Sharks have developed into fearsome opponents under the no-nonsense coaching of John Plumtree, and Greg Growden says teams cannot underestimate the four-time tournament runners-up.
Last season: final, third in South African conference; The Sharks became the first team in history to win two play-offs on the road, but the travel caught up with them in Hamilton and they failed to perform in the decider. They tallied 11 bonus points through the season but none in the 10-point loss to the Lions in round 15, and that defeat was crucial in the finals make-up that saw them face an impossible journey.
Key man: Marcell Coetzee sprung from nowhere in 2012 to make more tackles (288) than any player in the tournament, and to make 178 runs for 946 metres and 22 offloads. The flanker was a key player in their charge to the Final, and he can only improve in his second full season.
Rising star: Sibusiso Sithole has made his name as a powerful try-scoring winger for Natal Sharks in the Currie Cup and for South Africa on the IRB World Sevens circuit, and he seems likely to get his chance in 2013 given reports that JP Pietersen may see more game time in the centres.
Season preview: The Sharks have experienced minimal change to their Springboks-laden squad, and they seem certain to be major players in the South African conference: they can beat anyone convincingly on their day, and they have the best historical away record of any team in the competition. The Sharks have lost four Finals, but they have the manpower to change the script in 2013.
Greg Growden's verdict: South African teams have always whinged about the travel factor, but the Sharks can win away from Durban and last year recorded a memorable finals series victory over the Reds in Brisbane. John Plumtree doesn't cop nonsense, and the Sharks have turned into a tight, reliable brand under their New Zealand coach's leadership. The long distances travelled eventually got to them in 2012, but no-one is underestimating them this year. They will be hovering finals time.
Tip: Second in South African conference. Finish: Sixth overall.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.