OPINION: The Sharks have reinforced their Super Rugby claims and supercoach Jake White can take plenty of credit for that.
A massive month on the road, during which they have won three of their four games has set the Durban franchise up for the run home.
You could call it a fabulous fortnight in New Zealand because, after beating the Melbourne Rebels and then getting squeezed by the Brumbies in Australia, their game went to another level on this side of the Tasman when they crunched both the Crusaders and the Blues.
I liked the look of the Sharks from the outset in this competition.
I didn't have much to go on other than what looked a pretty handy player roster and the return of White after his impressive sojourn in Aussie, where he took the Brumbies to the final last year.
They made a good start to this campaign in South Africa but the litmus test was always going to be how they travelled. Historically they have been the best team from the republic on the road but they went to another level over the past few weeks.
Their victory in Christchurch last week when they were reduced to 13 men was colossal. They made a red-hot Crusaders side look ordinary and they were just too efficient for the patchy Blues in Albany on Friday night.
I think the way they have performed confirms them as the team to beat now. They are 11 points clear in the South African conference and if they can stay at the top of the overall table, having a home game at the Shark Tank is going to be huge in the playoffs.
So why have the Sharks been so good this year?
As I said, they have good personnel in their squad.
They also have a style of rugby they are very comfortable with. It's a very South African style, emphasised in New Zealand where their massive pack and big midfield smothered everything thrown at them and was backed up by a dominant kicking game.
But perhaps their biggest asset is White and the canniness that comes with him.
This guy has the midas touch. He was largely unheralded when he took over the Springboks but won them a World Cup in 2007.
He lifted an average Brumbies team into last year's final and he's doing similar things with the Sharks.
We herald the likes of Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith at the Chiefs. This guy is the South African equivalent.
I suspect he may have better players in his possession right now than the Chiefs which could be telling come grand final time.
What I like about Jake is he does it his way and the rest can be damned. He has a strong ally at the Sharks in John Smit, the chief executive who was White's Boks skipper. They have a trust in each other, so there is fluidity between the front office and the footy field.
The style of rugby he had the Brumbies playing, and which is proving so effective for the Sharks, is basically the same game that won the Boks the 2007 World Cup when they beat England 15-6 without a try being scored.
Pressure, possession, position and kicking are White's trademark approach.
It's a throwback to times of old but it is certainly effective. And that's one of the beauties of rugby. There are many ways to win a game and so many styles around.
Yet often the best is simply sticking to the basics as White has proven.
Get the right players with the right attitude and things happen without being too fancy.
The Sharks were happy to live off the mistakes of the Crusaders and the Blues. They backed their defence to beat the New Zealand attack.
Sound familiar? How about the 1995 World Cup final when the scintillating play of the All Blacks was halted by the miserly defence of Kitch Christie's Boks.
White has brought that approach to the current stage.
It's the traditional South African way but it is still relevant. Personally I'm not a fan - what Kiwi is? - but that doesn't stop me admiring and giving credit where it's due.
White's axing from the Boks job was simply political, as he was replaced by the controversial Peter de Villiers immediately after winning South Africa's second World Cup. That's the scene there and White took it on the chin.
It's been a bit of a mystery that he hasn't coached internationally since.
By all accounts he went close to the England and Wallabies jobs and I guess England is a country that would suit his approach. There aren't many . . . perhaps Argentina and Italy are others.
But I'm glad to see him operating in Super Rugby and contributing in such a big way.
Perhaps in the bigger picture we should be a little bit worried that the success of the Sharks could manifest itself as an even more dangerous South African side.
There are so many jealousies in the republic that I'm not sure that will happen. Heyneke Meyer, whose success with the Bulls was built around a White-type approach before he took over the Boks, has tried to apply a more expansive game to their national team.
He will probably look to push on with that. That might be at his peril. The blueprint has been well set in South Africa - ask Jake White, one of its authors.
- Sunday News
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