In for heck of a game

2011-07-30 00:00

HELP is just around the corner, but for the moment the Sharks could be stretched to breaking when they face the Free State Cheetahs in this afternoon’s Currie Cup match at King’s Park.

Certainly a win today, following contrasting victories over the Blue Bulls and Pumas, would not only leave the young, diluted Sharks setting the Currie Cup pace, but would provide them with a solid platform to defend their title over the coming months.

What is certain is that the Sharks will be stronger in the weeks ahead, as five or six Springboks return after their Tri-Nations tour, but for the moment and in the words coach John Plumtree, “we have a squad of 22 with a couple of U21s providing back-up”.

The good news is that late yesterday both flyhalf Frederic Michalak (hamstring) and Springbok centre Marius Joubert (ankle) were passed fit to play.

“Freddie was our major concern, but he has undergone intensive treatment this week and he has just been out running and kicking without any problems,” team docter Ewoudt van der Linde told the Weekend Witness.

Still, it has been the most disrupted of weeks for the Sharks with the water-logged pitches at King’s Park and the backline injuries restricting their preparations.

And Plumtree and his team know they are in for one heck of a game against a well-organised, direct, fresh and enthusiastic bunch of Free Saters.

Coach Naka Drotské’s players looked in excellent shape in the first half against the Blue Bulls at Loftus last week, but then dozed off after the break and surrendered their 14-point lead to lose a game they should have won 30-33.

“We have only ourselves to blame and we have placed ourselves under pressure by losing,” said Drotské.

“They were very impressive against the Bulls and we’ll have to play well to beat them.

“The Sharks are the form team of the moment,” he added.

The Cheetahs coach, of course, is trying gee-up his players and his assessment is not quite accurate.

Certainly the Free Staters were more impressive in just losing to the Blue Bulls in Pretoria last week than the Sharks were in pipping the Pumas in Nelspruit.

Drotské, on more solid ground, said the Cheetahs are no longer the Sharks’ bogey team. The Sharks beat the Cheetahs twice in the Currie Cup last year and twice (23-18 and 24-9) in this year’s Super Rugby competition, so recent history is on thir side.

He said ball retention would be critical. “The stats show the Sharks score 70 to 80% of their tries from bad kicks by their opponents, so we need to ensure we keep the ball and build momentum and that is when we’re at our most dangerous.”

Plumtree, in turn, believes that the Sharks’ defence holds the key to victory against a Cheetahs team that is capable of varying their attack “from being blunt up the middle to using the width of the field.”

The Free Staters, after seeing how the young Sharks pack struggled in Nnelsruit a week ago, will also fancy themselves at the set piece.

The team, on paper, appear exceedingly well matched with young forward packs and more experienced backlines.

The battle will be at its most fierce at the breakdown and in the midfield where the four centres — the Sharks’ Marius Joubert and Meyer Bosman up against Free Staters Corne Uys and Andries Strauss — have played with and against each other on numerous occasions down the years.

The weather and the conditions could well play a part but it will be a massive boost for the Sharks if they can come away from this awkward, testing contest with a victory.

TEAMS:

Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Mark Richards, 13 Marius Joubert, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 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 Marais, 19 Francois Kleinhans, 20 Jacobus Reinach, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Sibusiso Sithole.

Free State Cheetahs: 15 Henni Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Corne Uys, 12 Andries Strauss (captain), 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Johan Wessels, 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 PW van Vuuren, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.

Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Izak van der Westhuizen, 19 Pieter Myburgh, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Philip Snyman, 22 Philip Burger.

Referee: Jason Jaftha. Kick-off: 3.00pm

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