Hosting a handful at King’s Park

2012-04-21 00:00

THE Sharks will literally have their hands full when they face the flourishing Chiefs in their Super Rugby outing at King’s Park this evening.

The Chiefs’ balanced approach, a potent mix of forceful running and excellent defence, has carried them to the top of the log and they are demonstrably the form team in the competition at present.

The Sharks, a curious mix of the good, bad and the untidy this season, will have to be at their very best, and keep making their tackles, if they are to blunt the threat of the Chiefs’ powerful runners.

The table-topping Chiefs are delighting in their best start to any Super Rugby season with six successive wins in seven games. All Black Aaron Cruden at flyhalf, alongside the centre pairing of fellow-Test players Richard Kahui and centre Sonny Bill Williams, with other hefty attackers running off them, has turned them into a potent try-scoring force.

But it is their new coaching panel, led by the pragmatic Dave Rennie, which has transformed this side. Not only have they tightened up their forward play, but their previously vulnerable defence is now resolute and organised with the Chiefs leaking the fewest tries (eight) of any team in the competition while scoring 19. (The Sharks have scored 21 tries but conceded 19).

Plan A, indeed the only plan that can work, is for the Sharks to squeeze the Chiefs for possession and space. Only by pressuring their forwards, limiting their counterattacking opportunities with an accurate kicking game, cutting back on their turnovers and playing in their faces, can the Sharks hope to break the Chiefs’ rhythm.

The Chiefs were better than their 39-33 win over the Cheetahs last week suggests and they showed just how dangerous they can be if are on the frontfoot with Cruden hitting the advantage line at pace. The Sharks, if they are to stay in the contest, have to turn the Chiefs and force them to play their rugby behind the gainline.

The Sharks, of course, have strengths of their own, but they have been so inconsistent that no one can be quite certain what to expect tonight.

Their young forwards performed well on tour, but they will rely on the physicality of Willem Alberts, Steven Sykes and Bismarck du Plessis to trouble the strong Chiefs pack.

“We have to play really well this weekend to beat them,” Plumtree said, adding that the Chiefs were confident, well coached, consistently selected and showing excellent form.

In contrast, as Plumtree pointed out, the Sharks are midway through their campaign, but are still looking for that rounded, 80-minute performance, one where the defence matches their attack and their set pieces are secure.

The Chiefs will be more familiar with the referee, New Zealander Garratt Williamson, while the Sharks have an important home ground advantage with a vocal King’s Park crowd urging them on.

It will be close and hard but only a complete 80 minute display, with all the right boxes ticked, will enable the Sharks to break the Chiefs’ impressive run of victories.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Dale Chadwick.

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Frederic Michalak, 22 Meyer Bosman.

Chiefs: 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Leila Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Alex Bradley, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clark (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Sona Taumalolo.

Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Robbie Robinson.

Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand).

Kick-off: 5.05 pm.

Curtain-raiser: Sharks XV vs EP (Vodacom Cup) 2.40 pm.

Sharks XV team to play EP: 15. Gouws Prinsloo, 14. S’bura Sithole, 13. Wandile Mjekevu, 12. Heimar Williams, 11. Rosko Specman, 10. Fred Zeilinga, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Lubabalo Mtembu, 7. Brynard Stander, 6. Francois Kleinhans, 5. Peet Marais, 4. Jandre Marais (captain), 3. Nick Schonert 2. Kyle Cooper, 1. Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16. Monde Hadebe, 17. Danie Mienie, 18. Brendan Groenewald, 19. Chris Cloete, 20. Hanco Venter, 21. Piet Lindeque, 22. Jaco van Tonder.

Other Super Rugby fixtures today (home team first, SA times): Hurricanes vs Crusaders, 9.35 am; Waratahs vs Rebels, 11.40; Sharks vs Chiefs, 5.05 pm; Bulls vs Brumbies, 7.10 pm;

Byes: Lions, Cheetahs and Force.

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