It’s tough at the top

2009-10-03 00:00

THE Sharks may be sitting pretty at the top of the log, but they will still be under massive pressure when they face the Lions in this evening’s Currie Cup match at King’s Park.

Head coach John Plumtree has relied heavily on his young reserves to steer the Sharks into pole position in the Currie Cup race, but he now needs significant contributions from his senior players, his returning Springboks, over the next month to maintain the momentum.

The Sharks are already safely through to the semi-finals, but Plumtree is aware that home ground advantage is critical in the play-offs if the Currie Cup title is to be retained. It seems certain that the Blue Bulls, with their dozen or so Springboks, will finish third and, to secure the prospect of an easier semi-final and a home final, the Sharks need to stay ahead of Western Province at the top of the log with bonus point wins over the Lions today and Griquas next Saturday in Kimberley.

Team coaches usually talk about winning the game and worrying about tries later, but Plumtree said yesterday that the Sharks are looking for nothing less than five points from tonight’s outing.

Certainly he has a team tailor-made for an attacking, high-tempo game with a mobile pack, quick loose forwards and a willing backline boosted by the return of Bok wings JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane.

His concern will be whether his pack can secure enough quality possession against the beefy Lions who are buoyant after beating Boland 88-15 last weekend.

“We watched the tape of that game,” said Plumtree, “and the Lions played very well, although Boland were not great.

“The Lions certainly have some big ball-carriers in Willem Alberts and Derrick Minnie and we will be in trouble if we let them run with the ball and build momentum.”

The Lions still have a slim chance of reaching the semi-finals, but have to beat the Sharks today and Western Province at Ellis Park next weekend to stay alive in the competition. They have little to lose today and believe that last week’s thumping of Boland was the sign that they have turned the corner.

Lions captain Cobus Grobbelaar says his side are excited about the Durban challenge. He regards the Sharks’ new halfbacks, Ruan Pienaar and Juan Martin Hernandez, as a major threat and told reporters said the plan was to place the pair under pressure by achieving forward control.

He pointed out that the Lions failed to take their chances when they played the Sharks in the first round and lost 30-19 at Ellis Park in spite of having the edge in possession and territory.

“And that is what was so encouraging against Boland last weekend. It was a balanced performance and we converted our opportunities.

“We have to take the game to the Sharks. They have game-breakers all over the field, but it will be a good for us to play them at King’s Park to see just where we are with our rugby.”

The Sharks, with 14 players who have been involved internationally at various stages, have heaps of talent spread through the starting line-up and the bench. They will miss the muscular presence of flank Jean Deysel, but the return of Boks Beast Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis will add physicality to the tight five.

While the Lions blossomed last weekend, the Sharks stuttered against the Leopards when they lacked intensity and focus and played the ball away from their forwards instead of involving them. They certainly have the potential to win well against the Lions, but they still need to play a structured, tactically astute game.

The risk in a contest of this nature is that the Sharks will set out in headless pursuit of tries before they have laid the platform and Plumtree will be looking to the experience of his Springboks, and halfbacks Pienaar and Hernandez, to keep his enthusiastic attackers on the right path.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche (c), 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Juan Hernandez, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Keegan Daniel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Albert van den Berg, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis,1 Beast Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16 Skipper Badenhorst, 17 Patric Cilliers, 18 Johann Muller, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Monty Dumond, 22 Adrian Jacobs.

Lions: 15 Earl Rose, 14 Michael Killian, 13 Jannie Boshoff, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Johan Jackson, 10 Herkie Kruger, 9 Chris Jonck, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Derrick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar (c), 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Nico Luus, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Hans Van Dyk, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.

Replacements: 16 Torrie Meyer, 17 Wayne Swart, 18 Willem Stoltz, 19 Todd Clever, 20 Ruan Boshoff, 21 Walter Venter, 22 Pieter Engelbrecht.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan.

ON TV

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

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