Sharks desperate to lift game

2011-10-01 00:00

THERE will be a whiff of desperation in the air when the stuttering Sharks take on a young Western Province outfit in their Currie Cup game at King’s Park this evening.

The Sharks have somehow not only held on to second spot on the log — in spite of a hit-and-miss campaign and moments of poor rugby — but they could even end the season in top spot if they can end with a flourish and other results fall in their favour.

To achieve that goal they would have to win their remaining three games — against Province today, the bottom-of-the-log Leopards on the road and then the pace-setting Lions in Durban. They would also need the Lions to lose again and obviously they are hoping the Free Staters trump John Mitchell’s team in Bloem today.

But those who have squirmed as the Sharks have fiddled and faffed their way through an unconvincing series of matches — and this includes coach John Plumtree — know that their current form is not compelling enough to retain the Currie Cup title. They have to find their cohesion, attacking rhythm, accuracy and intensity quickly in the final three rounds or they will miss out on a top-two finish and the right to host a semi-final.

Western Province have also lost the plot in recent weeks as a run of injuries has cut down a number of their more promising young players.

Losses to the Blue Bulls and then Free State over the past fortnight has dropped them from second to fourth on the log and defeat today could relegate them to sixth and they could miss out on a play-off spot.

Challenging both the Sharks and Province are the improving Free Staters, lurking in third spot, and the fifth-placed Blue Bulls who have the easiest ride over the final three league games.

WP assistant coach Matt Proudfoot says his players face a massive challenge in Durban after losing 21-19 at home to the Sharks in the first round.

“They are the Currie Cup champions, so we know it is going to be a tough game. The aim for us is that we make sure we start better. We can’t afford to give so many turnovers in the first 20 minutes and we must assert ourselves more on the game from the start.”

Plumtree says his Sharks and Province are in a similar position after see-sawing their way through the season.

“Province are a bit like us, a little bit up and down and they have also been affected big time by Springbok call-ups. We both have had some injury problems so both camps have been through similar things.

“But this is a very important game and, as a home match, we need to play a lot better than we did last week [against Griquas]. I’m sure we’re going to do that.”

Plumtree has resisted making the significant changes he was contemplating after the Griquas game — by switching Meyer Bosman to flyhalf and including Adi Jacobs in the midfield — but he certainly will want to see a more direct, accurate approach from Frederic Michalak in the pivot role. The Sharks, in their determination to involve the wings, have been playing far too laterally instead of first making inroads in the midfield.

But the job has first to be done in the set phases and at the breakdown, and this is where the Sharks have to lay the foundation tonight.

Province coach Allister Coetzee was this week forced to rest a number of players suffering minor injuries and the talented Johann Sadie, Conrad Jantjes and Nick Koster have all been named on the bench.

“I’m happy our young players have done well, and they have proved that they can play at this level.”

He said his young players were excited about playing a Sharks side containing a number of internationals.

“But we’re facing a daunting task, playing against the powerful Sharks, and away from home.”

Coetzee said they were not looking at individuals in the Sharks team.

“They have a formidable all-round team. They have not been in the best of form in recent weeks and their play has been patchy.

“But they’ll lift the game, in much the same way other teams do against Western Province.”

These words of praise from Cape Town may have applied to the Sharks team in the past, and will surely again be true some time in the future, but Plumtree’s concern is all about the present and he needs his players to stand up and perform this evening.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 Marius Joubert, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 7 Ross Skeate, 6 Anton Bresler, 5 Eugene van Staaden, 4 Kyle Cooper, 3 Dale Chadwick.

Replacements: 16 Mondie Hadebe, 17 Wiehann Herbst, 18 Jan Andre Marais, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Conrad Hoffman, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Adrian Jacobs.

Western Province: 15. Heinrich Steyl, 14. Danie Poolman, 13. Berton Klaasen, 12. Marcel Brache, 11. JJ Engelbrecht, 10. Lionel Cronje, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 8. Nizaam Carr, 7. Siya Kolisi, 6. Nick Fenton-Wells, 5. De Kock Steenkamp, 4. Adriaan Fondse, 3. Brok Harris, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg (captain), 1. JC Kritzinger.

Replacements 16. Deon Fourie, 17. Frans Malherbe, 18. Tertius Daniller, 19. Nick Koster/Pieter Louw, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Johann Sadie, 22. Conrad Jantjes.

Kick-off: 5.05 pm. Referee: Mark Lawrence.

Currie Cup games today (home team first): Leopards vs Griquas 3 pm. Free State vs Lions 3 pm. Sharks vs WP 5 pm.

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