Currie cup: Fluent Lions have edge at Ellis Park tonight

2011-08-27 00:00

COACH John Plumtree is looking to his Springboks to put their Rugby World Cup disappointments behind them and spark the Sharks in their top-of-the-log Currie Cup clash at Ellis Park tonight.

The Sharks, patchy in form this season and with Springboks coming and going, have yet to play with the authority that carried them to the title last year. But they are still just a point adrift of the Lions and a win this evening will provide them with a handy lead at the top of the table at the end of the first round of fixtures.

Plumtree, in the gloom of King’s Park last Friday and after the Sharks had laboured to a 23-3 win over the bottom-of-the-log Leopards, promised his team would be better against the Lions.

They will have to be, and the Sharks coach needs his senior players to stand up tonight. Five of them — Lwazi Mvovo, Adi Jacobs, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski and Jean Deysel — are World Cup rejects. (A sixth, lock Alistair Hargeaves, has been ill this week and was not considered for Ellis Park).

John Mitchell’s Lions have the advantage of continuity and are fielding close to their Super Rugby combination tonight. Butch James, a late arrival in Johannesburg this season, is the only Lions team member involved with the RWC squad, while the Sharks are missing eight players.

Still, the Sharks, with their spread of seven internationals, are more highly decorated than the Lions, though their cohesion, particularly on attack, has been missing this season. “I’ve been pleased with our defence,” Plumtreee said, “but we will have to be alert and scramble well. The Lions have width to their game, but they can also be blunt up the middle with their big ball-carriers.

“It’s important that we don’t come away from Joburg having made 180 to 200 tackles; we’ve also got to be in this game with our attack.

“We know we are capable of beating them, but we’re going up there with an open mind. We want to express ourselves and play for 80 minutes.”

Plumtree said he had expected the Lions to blossom in the Currie Cup. “They’re scoring tries and their defence is tidy, so we’re going to be challenged in both departments this weekend. Obviously they have the benefit of not losing too many players to the World Cup, and this gives them continuity from the Super Rugby tournament through to the Currie Cup. “

Bearded Lions captain Josh Strauss, who vies with Frans Steyn as the hairiest man in rugby, said his players are confident in spite of a narrow loss to Western Province at Newlands last weekend. “It was a good learning curve. We know what we need to do now against a strong Sharks team,” he added.

Plumtree said the Currie Cup sides, apart from perhaps the Lions, have still to play to their potential this season. “The Sharks, Bulls, Province and the Cheetahs haven’t performed consistently well this season, but there is a whole round to get that right before the finals.”

The teams appear well-matched with the breakdown clash between two fierce, physical backrows (the Lions’ Joshua Strauss, Derick Minnie and Cobus Grobbelaar bumping Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel and Marcell Coetzee) likely to be decisive. While both teams have pace out wide, the Lions have been more fluent and threatening on attack.

There is much at stake tonight with the friendly rivalry between the two coaches, fellow-New Zealanders Plumtree and Mitchell, adding an edge to the contest.

Honours were shared in the Currie Cup last year with the Sharks winning 48-19 in Durban but then going down 22-20 at Ellis Park. It could be just as close again this evening, but the buoyed Lions, at home and playing the more consistent rugby, will believe they hold a slight edge.

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TEAMS

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick.

Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Jan Andre Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Adrian Jacobs

Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.

Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Joe Snyman, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Doppies la Grange, 22 Burton Francis.

Referee: Jaco Peyper. Kick-off: 5.05 pm.

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