Must-win home tie for Sharks

2011-04-09 00:00

THE Sharks will be desperate to steady their tottering season by beating the wounded Lions in a Super Rugby derby at King’s Park tonight.

The Sharks made a rollicking start to the competition with four back-to-back victories, but three successive losses in different countries over the past three weekends has placed them under fierce pressure on their home turf.

A second home defeat following last week’s shoddy loss to the Stormers will drop them well off the pace and they have been told all week of the significance of today’s contest.

John Mitchell’s Lions are propping up the foot of the log (with the Cheetahs) and the Sharks, at home, should be confident of notching up an emphatic win a week before their bye. But head coach John Plumtree admitted this week that there was more than a hint of desperation in the Sharks camp.

“It’s a home game, but we’re staring down a hole. If we don’t front up, we’re going to get pushed in. And from there it would be a long way back. So the boys know how important this game is,” he said.

The globetrotting Sharks have suffered from their pack-and-play experiences of the past month, but they have also been hurt by the loss of flyhalf Pat Lambie and the inability of their forwards to dominate and create solid, winning platforms against the Chiefs, Crusaders and Stormers.

The Lions have battled this season, winning only one of their seven games, but they are certainly more of a threat than their results would suggest.

The inclusion of veteran Bok flyhalf Andre Pretorius in place of rookie Elton Jantjies has added experience and rugby nous to their backplay. Their backline, as a unit, is slicker than the Sharks’, who have been exposed tactically by playing too deep and flat-footed well behind the advantage line.

Plumtree, with good reason, is not taking the Lions for granted.

“They’ve had some close losses which could have been wins and they are an inventive side able to play to all areas of space on the field.

“They’ve been encouraged to play expansively [by Mitchell] and there are going to be errors which does give us opportunity.”

But Plumtree pointed out the Sharks had a similar approach “and we’ll probably give them chances”.

“We must just make sure we are accurate and give them fewer opportunities.”

Plumtree said he was not taking much notice of the pre-season thumping which the Sharks took from the Lions in Cape Town.

“They were much more enthusiastic than us on that day, and sport is all about attitude. Our attitude and our desire has got to be way more than theirs on Saturday night.”

Mitchell agreed that there would be a desperation to the approach of both the Lions and the Sharks.

“It will come down to the team holding their nerve and playing the way they want to and can.”

While he singled out the Lions’ set-piece play as critical, Plumtree has emphasised the need for the Sharks to be more clinical and accurate. And they will surely have learnt from their string of losses and will aim to play more rugby in the opposition’s half while cutting down the Lions’ attackers, who often run from deep, well behind the gainline.

Adding to the needle of the game will be the rivalry between the two New Zealand coaches (and friends), Mitchell and Plumtree, and the presence in the Lions squad of seven players who have been involved with the Sharks in recent seasons. They are Lionel Mapoe, who spent most of last year training with the Sharks, Waylon Murray, André Pretorius, Warren Whiteley, Pat Cilliers, Michael Rhodes and Rory Kockott.

History strongly suggests that the Sharks will win. They have not lost to the Lions, home or away, since 2001 with nine victories in 10 games and one draw. But, of course, the Stormers defied seven years of history in Durban last weekend and Plumtree will have told the Sharks to disregard the past.

Still, the Sharks, happily at home, rested after their travels and geed-up by coach Plumtree, should celebrate Stefan Terblanche’s 200th game in some style.

TEAMS

Sharks: Louis Ludik, Odwa Ndungane, Stefan Terblanche,Meyer Bosman, JP Pietersen, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Keegan Daniel, Gerhard Mostert, Steven Sykes, Eugene van Staden, Bismarck du Plessis, John Smit.

Replacements: Jannie du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira, Ross Skeate, Jacques Botes, Conrad Hoffmann, Adrian Jacobs, Lwazi Mvovo.

Lions: James Kamana, Lionel Mapoe, Waylon Murray, Doppies La Grange (capt), Deon van Rensburg, André Pretorius, Jano Vermaak, Warren Whiteley, Joshua Strauss, Derick Minnie, Franco van der Merwe, George Earle, Patric Cilliers, Bandise Maku, JC Janse van Rensburg.

Replacements: Edgar Marutlulle, Jacobie Adriaanse, David de Villiers, Michael Rhodes, Rory Kockott, Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan. Kick-off: 7.10pm (SS1). Curtain-raiser: Skarks XV v Leopards (4.45pm).

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