Demons to bury in Bloem

2011-06-04 00:00

THE Sharks will have to bury some old demons if they are to keep their Super Rugby challenge alive by beating the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this evening.

The Sharks are facing a team in form and one they find more difficult to beat than any other in South Africa. While John Plumtree’s Sharks probably only have to win only two of their next three games to gain a wild card entry to the play-offs, defeat tonight would certainly leave them having to win twice at altitude, first against the Lions and then, critically, the resurgent Bulls at Loftus over the following fortnight.

The Free Staters, with their blend of skill and enthusiasm, have a knack of bothering the Sharks and have derailed a series of their promising Super Rugby and Currie Cup campaigns with surprise victories.

With their talent annually hunted down by the richer franchises, the Cheetahs have lacked the depth and consistency to make an impression on the Super Rugby stage, but this has not stopped them beating the Sharks four times in their last seven outings.

The Sharks, on paper and with their dozen Springboks, look far stronger, but on grass their form has been patchy and they have yet to play to their potential.

The Cheetahs, in contrast and in spite of a rash of injuries to key players, have exceeded expectations. They started with a series of narrow defeats, but opted for youth in patching up holes and they have come to life in the second half of the competition to win four of their last five matches.

Their most rewarding was over the Crusaders (33-20), while there was also much to admire in their narrow loss at Loftus last Saturday when it needed a goal after the final hooter to take the Bulls to safety and an 11-point win.

Plumtree has been quick to highlight the threat posed by the confident Free Staters.

“They enjoy playing the Sharks and enjoy beating us, so they’ll be looking forward to this home fixture,” said Plumtree.

“Our players know exactly what needs to be done, but we must make sure we don’t go into our shells. We have a lot more to play for than them, so we have to play with more hunger and intent.”

The Sharks have suddenly this season appeared vulnerable when they have been bashed about on the gain-line, by the Stormers, twice, and then the Bulls.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské has the blueprint and he said they are determined to stop the Sharks’ big runners, like Willem Alberts, and Bismarck du Plessis behind the advantage line.

The Cheetahs have also targeted their former team-mate, inside centre Meyer Bosman, and the inside channel, just as the Stormers and Bulls did.

Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie said Bosman is battling in a disjointed Sharks backline.

“Meyer is probably the inside centre with the best pass in the country, but he has not adapted well at the Sharks and is struggling with form,” said Fourie, adding that the Cheetahs plan to disrupt Bosman and flyhalf Pat Lambie.

The match statistics tell the story of the Cheetahs season. Their excellent broken play running and close supporting play have brought them 38 tries in 14 games and they are third only to the Crusaders (42) and Reds (40) as an attacking side with the effective backrower Ashley Johnson, scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius, the Ebersohn twins and Riaan Viljoen constantly sniping away.

The Cheetahs’ line, however, has been crossed 43 times — only the Rebels (62) have leaked more tries — but as Plumtree has pointed out, they have now resolved many of those defensive problems.

“What they’ve got right now is their defence. They’re making those one-on-one tackles, the holes aren’t there anymore and so we will have to work really hard against them. That’s what we need, to be patient, disciplined and play in the right areas. We’ve got to treat this game like a Test match. And that’s what it is.”

The Sharks are hoping to inhibit the Cheetahs by pressuring their set piece.

The Cheetahs, with a powerful front-row, are unlikely to budge, but their lineout could be vulnerable and the Sharks are looking to promoted lock Gerhard Mostert to make an impact.

The Sharks have the greater incentive this evening, but the Cheetahs, in form and a genuine threat at home, will take some beating.

The bookies and most of the pundits are tipping a narrow Cheetahs’ win, but it is time that the Sharks started to flex their muscles and prove to both sceptic and supporter that they indeed still have a future.

TEAMS

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Viljoen, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Corne Uys, 11 Philip Snyman, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Ashley Johnson, 6 Johan Wessels, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen. Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Izak van der Westhuizen, 19 Pieter Myburgh, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Naas Olivier, 22 Riaan Smit.

Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Stefan Terblanche, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Gerhard Mostert, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Eugene van Staden, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. John Smit (captain). Replacements: 16. Tendai Mtawarira, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Alistair Hargreaves, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Frederic Michalak, 21. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22. Adrian Jacobs.

Referee: Mark Larwrence (SA).

Kick-off: 5.05 pm (SS1).

Today’s fixtures (home team first, SA times): Hurricanes v Lions 7.30 am, Blues v Chiefs 9.35 am, Reds v Brumbies 11.40 am, Cheetahs v Sharks 5.05 pm. Bye: Crusaders

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