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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Andre Esterhuizen © Getty Images

Sharks must tread carefully in humidity

Kings Park will parade under a new name from Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby clash between the Cell C Sharks and the Sunwolves, with Jonnson Workwear extending their rugby interest into the city where the company started.

The Durban headquarters is just a stone’s throw away from what will now be known as Jonnson Kings Park (the three year contract with Growthpoint has now lapsed) in what was the Lion Match building in nearby Umgeni Road.

Company CEO Nick Jonnson is a proud Durbanite and it was during a social interaction with his Sharks counterpart Gary Teichmann that the idea of helping the Sharks promote Durban as a great place to live came into being.

Durban is indeed a unique city, with it’s sub-tropical climate and laid back outdoor lifestyle, and the Sharks are committed to playing a brand of rugby that will both win games and draw the crowds back into the stadium. However, while you will never hear anyone from the Sharks using it as an excuse, playing games in Durban at this time of the year, when the humidity really is stifling, is a challenge and when they play against teams that should be expected to be inferior to them, the conditions can act as a leveller.

Those who only watch Durban games on television might struggle to understand why a seemingly clear and dry day such as last Saturday, when the Sharks were held to a draw by the Waratahs, could have been regarded as debilitating.

Those who played rugby decades ago with the old leather ball of that era, and in jerseys that were heavier but more sweat absorbant than today’s lighter materials, might also wonder why it so often looks as if Kings Park protagonists are handling the ball as if it is a cake of soap.

But it is a real problem, and when Sharks coach Robert du Preez was a player in the early 1990s, the season only started with the Easter Club Championship, by which time the humidity is much less of a factor. Back then the leather ball was also less impacted by sweat.

The Sharks are playing the Sunwolves on Saturday and want to work on building up multi-phase attack, but as we saw last week, that can be a big challenge at a time of the year where arm-wrestles are more the order of the day at the venue than open running games.

Teams that do try to play attacking rugby make mistakes, and Sharks fans who have followed the team over a period of time might recall that even when the attack minded Dick Muir (now an assistant to Du Preez) was head coach of the Sharks back in 2007, the team started off the season conservatively in the home games before flourishing later on when humidity was no longer a factor.

To an extent, the Sharks gave away the points they would have earned for a win against the Waratahs by trying to be too adventurous. It was one of those days where you might have said they were guilty of trying to play too much rugby, and the try given away by a Keegan Daniel attempt to speed up the game with a quick throw was an example.

The Sunwolves play a quick game but an assessment of their record across the two venues they use as a home base makes for interesting reading. In the humidity of Singapore they tend to be more competitive than they often are in Tokyo.

Last year the Sharks only drew away late in their game in Singapore, and the Stormers have drawn there once and came close to losing on the other occasion. Is that the humidity-levelling effect referred to as a factor at Kings Park coming into play? Perhaps it is. It is really difficult to play multi-phase rugby in those conditions, and those who do tend to get tripped up.

The Sharks though believe it is possible to get it together if they just manage to be what they weren’t last week – patient.

“It is difficult to play multi-phase rugby in the humidity we get here at this time of year but we can do much better if we just show a bit of patience,” says Du Preez.

“Last week was disappointing and the players were very disappointed. We lacked patience. It has been a disappointing start to the season for us but it is just small things that we are getting wrong and I feel we are on the cusp of getting it right.”

Hopefully for the Sharks that moment where everything clicks and it all comes together will be on Saturday against the Sunwolves because the Sharks could do with some confidence ahead of their three-match tour of Australasia.

It won’t be easy though in the levelling conditions that are the Durban humidity and this might be a time where those old clichés about building an innings or earning the right to go wide might be apt. February and March is not a good time to be too adventurous.


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