Sharks eye top of the log

2012-09-15 00:00

THE Currie Cup race is wide open after the first round, but the Sharks, banking on home ground advantage, will be desperate to go clear at the top of the log after tonight’s clash against Western Province at King’s Park.

The Sharks started their Currie Cup campaign with a bang, downing Province in their own back yard, and they have set the pace in the first round. But a bruising defeat in Kimberley last Saturday has allowed Province and the Golden Lions to draw level with them on 15 points at the top.

There is precious little in it and even the bottom-of-the-log Blue Bulls (8) are only seven points off the pace.

The Sharks do have a favourable second-round draw with three of their five games — against WP, the Blue Bulls and Griquas — in Durban and if they exploit that advantage at home they will certainly reach the semi-finals.

The goal, of course, is to finish top on the log to secure a home semi-final and potential final and they simply cannot drop points at King’s Park if they are keep those ambitions alive.

“There’s really not much in this competition,” Sharks coach John Plumtree said this week. “Everyone has lost two or three games and it’s been difficult to predict results. The Lions lost to us, but then went and beat the Bulls, but the Bulls beat us. There’s not much between all the teams really.”

Both he and WP coach Allister Coetzee are treading warily.

Plumtree said that Province had improved since the Sharks overcame a lopsided penalty count (15-4 against them at half-time) to turn a 13-3 half-time deficit into a 25-23 win in the rain at Newlands.

What will be of concern is that Lourens van der Merwe, who hammered them at Newlands, is again the referee tonight and their discipline will be critical.

“Everyone has improved during the competition and Province have definitely progressed and they have real strengths in certain areas,” said Plumtree.

“They have a big driving lineout and base much of their play around the drive. Our game, in contrast, is centred on phase play.”

Coetzee has been talking up the Sharks this week, suggesting that Plumtree’s team, following a number of Currie Cup and Super Rugby wins, know how to beat Province.

“We have no doubt that this is going to be a really tough game. We are playing against a side that sort of has our number.

“We lost the second round Super Rugby game against them, and then the semi-final, which was heartbreaking for us. We also lost the first round Currie Cup game against them, so it has been three in a row, and we need to change that,” said Coetzee. “They appear to enjoy playing against us, so we are going to have to go into the game with the right attitude.”

And Province will at least be arriving at King’s Park with their heads high after their successes of the past fortnight, a crushing 42-6 victory over Blue Bulls in Cape Town and a 29-22 win over Free State in Bloemfontein.

A key factor in turning their season around has been the form of their forwards, while flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, inside centre Marcel Brache and fullback Gio Aplon have been prominent in their revival.

The experienced Sharks’ backrow (Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel and

Jacques Botes) are well suited to Plumtree’s expansive game plan and the coach is hoping that Cobus Reinach’s inclusion at scrumhalf and Tim Whitehead’s return at centre will add spark to the Sharks’ attack.

The weather tonight could again spoil the spectacle, but in conditions fair or foul, the Sharks will be desperately disappointed if they fail to translate an important home ground advantage into victory.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Riaan Viljoen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Jandre Marais, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 Dale Chadwick.

Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Brynard Stander, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 S’bura Sithole.

WP: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Damian de Allende, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Tyrone Holmes, 6 Deon Fourie (c), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Don Armand, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Deon Carstens.

Replacements: 16 Steven Kitshoff, 17 Tom Botha, 18 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 19 Helmut Lehmann, 20 Louis Schrueder, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Joe Pietersen.

Referee: Lourens van der Merwe. Kick-off: 7.10 pm. Curtain-raisers: Sharks U21 vs Border U21, 4.45 pm. Sharks U19 vs SWD Eagles U19, 3 pm.

sharks rugbyGriquas vs Blue Bulls, 3 pm. Free State vs Lions, 5.05 pm. Sharks vs WP, 7.10 pm.

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