Home semi in sight for Sharks

2009-09-19 00:00

HEAD coach John Plumtree hopes the lessons of this season’s failed Super 14 campaign have been learnt and will ignite the Sharks in their Currie Cup match against the dangerous Free State Cheetahs at King’s Park this evening.

The log-leading Sharks are within touching distance of grabbing a home Currie Cup semi-final with the Free Staters, fired up and confident, certainly their biggest remaining obstacle with four rounds to go.

The Sharks were in a similar position in the Super 14 back in April when they trundled off to meet the bottom-of-the-log Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. They could not have been better-placed to nail down a home semi-final as they topped the Super 14 log and, after Bloemfontein, their final four games were all at home in Durban. But their season was dramatically derailed in the Free State capital as they lost 6-31 and then never recovered, losing three of their four home games to miss the play-offs.

Plumtree is aware of the parallels. He also knows that these Cheetahs, after six successive wins, are on the rise and that the Sharks for some reason find Free State the most difficult team in the Currie Cup to beat.

“They have a very well-balanced side,” Plumtree said yesterday. “Their tight five are strong, their lineout is solid and they have Heinrich Brüssow back to add intensity at the breakdown. They also have a dangerous backline so they really are a complete team. Our defence will be crucial.”

Plumtree has propped up his squad with seven returning Springboks but, reluctant to disturb the cohesion of a successful Sharks team, has named four of them on a powerful bench.

“The impact that the seven Springboks have on this game, and the timing of Plumtree’s substitutions, will be decisive.

The inclusion of Bok reserve tighthead Jannie du Plessis in the starting line-up, and the presence of prop John Smit and hooker Bismarck du Plessis among the replacements is a massive boost for the Sharks scrum. Ruan Pienaar seems certain to be involved in the second half and he will enjoy being back at scrumhalf.

But it is at the breakdown that the battle will be at its most fierce. The Sharks have a talented backrow, boosted by the return of Ryan Kankowski, and they will want to succeed where the Wallabies and All Blacks failed by somehow keeping Brüssow under wraps.

Brüssow is the only regular first-choice Springbok starting for his province today.

“The body is sore after the long season, but I would rather play than sit on the sidelines. I want to try and make a big impact against the Sharks,” he said yesterday.

If today’s outcome is to be decided in the final quarter, Plumtree is hoping that his exceptionally powerful bench will prove the telling factor.

More Currie Cup, fixtures, log: pg 61

Sharks: Stefan Terblanche (capt.), Odwa Ndungane, Waylon Murray, Andries Strauss, Lwazi Mvovo, Juan Hernandez, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Albert van den Berg, Steven Sykes, Jannie du Plessis, Craig Burden, Deon Carstens. Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, John Smit, Alistair Hargreaves, Keegan Daniel, Ruan Pienaar, Monty Dumond, Adrian Jacobs.

Free State Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller, Lionel Mapoe, Corne Uys, Meyer Bosman, Jongi Nokwe, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, JP Joubert, Ashley Johnson, Frans Viljoen, Heinrich Brüssow, David de Villiers, Nico Breedt, WP Nel, Adriaan Strauss (capt.), Wian du Preez. Reserves: Richardt Strauss, Coenie Oosthuizen, Izak van der Westhuizen, Hendro Scholtz, Tertuis Carse, Louis Strydom, JW Jonker.

Referee: Mark Lawrence.

ON TV

Kickoff: 5.05 pm – live on M-Net, M-Net HD and SuperSport 1

 

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