Lambie crucial as Sharks have to up their play

2015-03-20 00:00

THE Sharks’ tactical approach, their ability to snuff out the Chiefs’ runners and stifle their attacking flair, will be decisive in tonight’s Super Rugby outing at King’s Park.

Fly-half Pat Lambie’s role in directing the traffic, and in forcing the Chiefs to play from deep, is so critical to the outcome that the Sharks have flown in the face of a SA Rugby Union directive and selected the Springbok for his sixth successive Super Rugby outing.

Lambie’s break is expected to come next Saturday when the Sharks play the Force in Durban with either Frans Steyn or Fred Zeilinga expected to take over at fly-half.

But for the moment, attention is centred on the slick, skilful New Zealand outfit. While the Sharks were grinding out a crucial away win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein a week ago, the Chiefs’ attacking spark was trumping the Stormers’ physicality at Newlands.

The Sharks are looking to Lambie to get right what the Stormers got wrong. Dominant in the set piece, the Stormers placed the Chiefs under pressure from the start, but poor kicking out of hand, and a lack of puff in the second half, presented the Chiefs with the chances to clinch the game.

The rival coaches later highlighted fitness and poor kicking as the difference between the two teams.

“The Stormers were tiring towards the end of the match,” said the Chiefs’ Dave Rennie, “and we’re a very fit side.”

Stormers’ coach Allistair Coetzee said that his team was punished for failing to find touch in relieving pressure.

“This is a quality Chiefs side, but obviously our kicking execution was not good. If you give them free possession like that, the Chiefs will punish you.”

The Sharks have been warned. If they leave any ball lying around, or they allow the Chiefs space, they will suffer.

After a limp, patchy start to the season, the Sharks did show more urgency in the first half against the Cheetahs. Their defence was aggressive, their set piece solid and they were organised in their kick-chase, squeezing the Free Staters into error behind the gain line. But the second half was a letdown and they failed to play with any cohesion as possession was booted away while penalties and turnovers were conceded.

They will certainly have to improve on their Bloemfontein effort, and play for 80 minutes, if they are to stay with the mobile Chiefs. They will expect to hold an edge in the set pieces, but they will be tested at the breakdown while the Sharks’ tactical kicking will have to be on the button, and the chase organised, if the Chiefs’ runners are to be contained.

The Chiefs have lost creative outside centre Tim Nanai-Williams (broken finger) and his midfield partner, the world-class Sonny Bill Williams (concussion), and that will come as a massive relief to the Sharks’ midfield.

But the Chiefs still have All Black fly half Aaron Cruden and a host of young runners willing and able to punish any Sharks mistakes.

The Sharks are also suffering, particularly in the back row, where Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Tera Mtembu are injured, and this has resulted in Marcell Coetzee being forced to soldier on for his sixth match on the bounce.

But it is the loss of Springbok lock Pieter-Steph du Toit which has hit them where it hurts most. The knee injury in Bloemfontein has effectively ended the 22-year-old’s Super Rugby season, robbing the Sharks of their chief source of line-out ball and one of their most robust forwards.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, privately anyway, must be relieved that the youngster is out of the firing line. If Du Toit has shown anything in his abbreviated, five-match season, it is that he can bounce back from many months of rehabilitation and play immediately with vigour and power while taking his line-out ball. Meyer has an enthusiastic and high-quality No 5 lock packed away on ice, but he will be fresh and ready for the Rugby World Cup.

Marco Wentzel, the 35-year-old veteran who took over from Du Toit in Bloemfontein, had one of his more productive outings and the Sharks will need another strong showing from him today. They will also want to pressure the Chiefs’ scrum and the recent success of eager young Stormers props, Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch, will be keeping Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis on their toes over the next few months.

The Sharks will again play the percentages tonight, relying on a structured, territory-based game to pressure the Chiefs, limit their attacking opportunities and force them to run from well behind the advantage line. The Sharks’ tactical emphasis will be as much on breaking the Chiefs’ rhythm as it will on them playing their own game.

But, if the Sharks are to triumph, they will need to take charge at forward, kick accurately out of hand, maintain their defensive lines and make their tackles. If they fail in any of these areas, they will be left chasing shadows in the night.

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