If their Boks fire, Sharks will win

2009-10-17 00:00

IF their many Springboks arrive in good shape, and then remember their lines, the Sharks will overcome a dangerous Free State outfit in this afternoon’s Currie Cup semi-final at King’s Park.

The title-holding Sharks finished top of the log, are playing at home and, in terms of personnel, look the stronger unit, but a surprising number of critics are tipping a Blue Bulls-Free State Cheetahs Currie Cup final in Pretoria on October 31.

The Free Staters have several advantages as coach Naka Drotske has pointed out. The pressure will be on the Sharks and the Cheetahs have nothing to lose, having reached the play-offs through the backdoor after a disastrous start to their campaign. They have regularly knocked over the Sharks in recent years and Drotske believes his team’s strengths — Heinrich Brussow’s ability at the breakdown, their scrummaging and their attacking game — will expose the champions.

Plumtree acknowledges the threat and says the Sharks regard this as their final.

“It won’t help if people wait to come and watch us in the final. If we don’t approach the game against the Cheetahs like a final, there won’t be one for us. That is the reality staring us in the face.”

But Plumtree is also convinced that if the Sharks play the way they can, they will win.

“We know what to expect from the Cheetahs and there is a real edge in the squad. It is not what has happened against the Cheetahs in the past or that we have beaten them twice in the Currie Cup this season. That’s all history. It is what happens on the day and just who fires that really counts. We know it will take an 80-minute performance to win.”

The weather and the forecast of rain could prove decisive. Certainly the Sharks have a superior tactical game if it is slippery, with talented kickers in halfbacks Ruan Pienaar and Juan Hernandez and a more secure back three in JP Pietersen, Odwa Ndungane and Stefan Terblanche. Significantly, they beat the Free Staters 21-12 in the rain of Bloemfontein when the conditions suited Sharks scrumhalf Rory Kockott while blunting the attacking edge of the Free Staters.

Indeed, Drotske is talking about making late changes if it is wet though this does seem unlikely.

But, whether it is wet or dry, the battle of the set pieces will be critical. The Cheetahs believe their loosehead (Wian du Preez) will bully John Smit, a story that the Bok captain has heard before, and certainly the Sharks scrum, and their defence, which leaked badly a week ago against Griquas, will be tested today.

There is also concern over the rustiness of several of their Springboks and the match fitness of injured tight forwards Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira and Johann Muller for what will be the most physical of contests.

But the Sharks have strengths of their own, a direct style of rugby built around bustling flank Jean Deysel and centre Riaan Swanepoel, a Springbok-dominated pack and a skilful halfback pairing.

The bottom line is that if their Springboks come to the party, and perform like Springboks, then the Sharks will host the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup final. Anything less and we could all be marching to Pretoria on October 31.

 

SEE PAGE 63 FOR TEAMS, TIMES AND WP-BULLS SEMI-FINAL PREVIEW

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