Sharks face nemesis Cheetahs in sticky conditions

2011-02-15 00:00

THE Sharks will have to be flexible in their tactical approach when they face the Cheetahs in their Super Rugby opener at King’s Park on Saturday evening.

The Sharks, playing rapid, ball-in-the-hand rugby, swept to the Currie Cup title last year and scored the most tries in the competition. Head coach John Plumtree and his team are committed to the fast-moving modern game, but the heat and humidity of Durban in February is certain to temper their approach.

Plumtree acknowledged that the humidity would cause problems for the Sharks’ first two games, at home to the Cheetahs and the Auckland Blues. The Sharks then tour Down Under for four games and conditions will be more comfortable when they return to Durban in early April.

“The humidity does make it tough,” said Plumtree, “and it is something of a leveller.”

He did concede that the Sharks had the advantage of preparing in the hot, sticky conditions, but the slippery ball and the humidity is certain to force the Sharks’ to adapt their game plan. The danger facing the Sharks is trying to play too much rugby in their own half and in the testing conditions instead of kicking for territory and pacing themselves.

Certainly flyhalves Pat Lambie and Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who has a strong kicking game, will boot the ball far more in the two opening games than they will later in the competition.

While the Cheetahs have battled to make an impact in the Super 14 — 10th place in 2006 is their best result — the Sharks have found the Free Staters more difficult to beat than the other South African teams.

Juan Smith’s Cheetahs have lost a number of high profile players, including Bok centre Meyer Bosman to the Sharks and prolific try-scorer Bjorn Basson to the Bulls, but coach Naka Drotske is upbeat and says his player have never prepared better.

They have signed inside centre Andries Strauss from the Sharks and attacking wing/fullback Phillip Burger has returned to Bloemfontein from overseas. Bok flank Heinrich Brussow is hoping to be back from an extended injury break in about three weeks while lock Wilhelm Steen­kamp, who was loaned to the Sharks by the Bulls last year, has signed for the Cheetahs along with ex-WP centre Morgan Newman.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 17:05.

ROUND ONE FIXTURES (KICK-OFF SA TIME):

Friday:

Hurricanes v Highlanders (Wellington) 08:35

Melbourne Rebels v Waratahs (Melbourne) 10:40

Saturday:

Blues v Crusaders (Auckland) 08:35

Brumbies v Chiefs (Canberra) 10:40

Sharks v Cheetahs (Kings Park) 17:05

Lions v Bulls (Ellis Park) 19:10

Sunday:

Reds v Western Force (Brisbane) 08:40

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