Sharks can turn the odds

2010-10-16 00:00

THE Sharks will be banking on their pace and an ambitious approach trumping the pragmatic and brawny Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup semi-final at King’s Park this afternoon.

The Bulls, as Currie Cup and Super 14 champions, are regarded as the firm favourites and have the statistics to back them. They have a semi-final win rate of almost 90% with just two losses in 17 games.

The Sharks have few backers outside the province, but they can draw comfort of their own from recent history against the Bulls. The hosts have won their last five Currie Cup games against the Bulls in Durban and they have beaten the Blue Bulls nine times in 12 meetings, home and away, since 2005.

But, of course, the past will count for nothing this afternoon when these two teams of contrasting strengths clash in a classic contest.

The Bulls ended fourth on the Currie Cup log, but the return of influential Springboks has swung the bookies in their favour. They have four Bok locks in their 22-man squad, with three in Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and number eight Danie Rossouw starting today. Beef and muscle will not be a problem.

They are also well-served at halfback with Francois Hougaard and a match-winning flyhalf in Morné Steyn and they have a dangerous bench for the final quarter.

The Bulls will look to play controlled, structured rugby, secure field position and then turn their territorial advantage into points with their strong ball-carriers and the boot of Steyn. They have a clear advantage in the line-out, but the Sharks are hoping that their all-Bok front row of Beast Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers will provide them with an edge in the scrum. They cannot, however, even take that for granted, particularly after the three made little impact against Province last Saturday.

Still, the Bulls will be making a mistake if they read too much into what happened at Newlands. The limp Sharks, without incentive and lacking cohesion after nine changes, were never physically in the battle.

Today there should be a dramatic improvement with successful combinations restored at loose forward, lock and halfback. Flanks Willem Alberts and Keegan Daniel will be physical and competitive, and scrumhalf Charl McLeod will be snappier behind the scrum.

Plumtree has said the Sharks will be “ambitious”, playing a high tempo, counter-attacking game, keeping the ball in hand, using the width of the field and looking for space.

Against an organised and solid-tackling Bulls outfit, it will be dangerous and they will have to be accurate in their approach and choose their attacking moments well.

But, of course, the Sharks will first have to match the Bulls physically, in the collisions on the gainline and allow the big men, Alberts, Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis, to create the momemtum that was missing at Newlands a week ago. And all the while Bismarck du Plessis and company must limit Steyn’s opportunities to kick penalty goals.

Captain Stefan Terblanche said that “playing the best would bring out the best in the Sharks”.

“We want to try and stay with the rugby that got us to the semi-final.”

Bulls captain Victor Matfield was in a philosophical mood as he contemplated another Super14-Currie Cup double.

“We have the toughest job of all the semi-finalists, but the fruits of hard work always taste the best. We have to do our thing in Durban.”

Coach Frans Ludeke predicted the most physical of contests.

“We will go through the wall and not around it. It will depend on which team’s ball-carriers gain the initiative and get their team over the advantage line.”

The Bulls, because they have the temperament, game plan and experience, are better equipped to play the percentage rugby which usually prevails in knock-out games. But the Sharks, lively and dangerous, are certainly capable of toppling the critics, the odds and the Bulls.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Stefan Terblanche (captain), 12. Andries Strauss, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Alistair Hargreaves, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16. Craig Burden, 17. Eugene van Staden, 18. Anton Bresler, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Rory Kockott, 21. Andre Pretorius, 22. Odwa Ndungane.

Blue Bulls: 15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 13. Jaco Pretorius, 12. Wynand Olivier, 11. Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8. Danie Rossouw, 7. Dewald Potgieter, 6. Derick Kuun, 5. Victor Matfield (captain), 4. Bakkies Botha, 3. Werner Kruger, 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1. Dean Greyling.

Replacements: 16. Bandise Maku, 17. Rossouw de Klerk, 18. Flip van der Merwe, 19. Pierre Spies, 20. Ruan Snyman, 21. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22. Deon Stegmann.

Referee: Marius Jonker.

 

ON TV

Today: Kick-off 2.30 pm — live on M-Net, SuperSport HD and SuperSport 1

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