Hardly a Super Rugby season goes by without the Sharks having to play a vitally important game to qualify for the play-offs, but the visit of the Cheetahs tomorrow has a significance that goes beyond winning a match to keep on course for the quarter-finals.

The Sharks are a franchise beset with numerous worrying issues, be it brewing politics regarding the spat between officials past and present; or the deeply concerning fact that clubs are yet to be paid the second half of their annual grants, to the ongoing failure of the annual financials of Sharks Pty Ltd to be presented for scrutiny.

They were conspicuously absent from the KZNRU AGM three weeks ago and their continued non-appearance suggests that there is an elephant in the Sharks’ boardroom that is growing increasingly restless.

Naturally, the best way to deflect focus from the boardroom is for the team to perform admirably.

That did not happen last week against the Lions but to be fair to Gary Gold and the players, that was as much due to an irresistible performance by the home side as it was to the Sharks’ ineptitude.

Tomorrow, though, there is no excuse and if ever there was a need for the Sharks to shatter the gloom it is tomorrow.

Gold, to his credit, cut through the deepening mist over the Shark Tank when he on Thursday said: “This game is for our fans. We owe the supporters for last weekend, let’s be honest about it. The Lions are a great team and I have no problem losing to a better team than us, as we did, but at the same time our performance was sub-standard, and we need to acknowledge that.

“That is the beauty of the game, you get an opportunity to pay back the supporters who are faithful to you,” the coach added.

The Sharks will make it into the play-offs as the wild card entry for the third (wild card) team from the two Africa Conferences, along with the Lions and the Stormers, provided they get past the Cheetahs and the Sunwolves (also in Durban, next week).

If the Sharks win these games they will qualify ahead of the Bulls.

“Our fate is in our hands and we are concentrating only on these two games – we have no interest in what the Bulls do. It is inconsequential to us,” Gold said. “If we win the next two games we qualify.”

And next week, Gold is likely to have captain and Patrick Lambie back from concussion in what will be a huge lift for a Sharks team that has been rocked by injuries of late after having a reasonably charmed life for much of the year.

There was some relief for Gold when centre Andre Esterhuizen was passed fit after missing out on the Lions game.

But the Sharks remain thin on the ground in the back division after the injuries to Joe Pietersen and Paul Jordaan and as Gold says, ‘the door opens for youngsters to state their case.’

One of those is 23-year-old fullback Rhyno Smith, a product of Paarl Boys High and more recently of the Leopards, while there is a debut in the offing for one of the brightest lights on the South African rugby horizon, Curwin Bosch.

Teams

Sharks: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira (c). Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 Curwin Bosch.

Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegn