Sharks focus on defence for Crusaders

2015-04-02 00:00

WHEN the Chiefs were in town, their captain Liam Messam spoke at length about the difficulty of playing in South African stadiums, while highlighting the “Shark Park” as one of his favourites to play in.

But what went down at the Shark Park was pretty bizarre, as three red cards were dished out in the hugely physical, heated clash. It certainly won’t be any less bruising when the Sharks host the travelling Crusaders on Saturday.

The New Zealanders didn’t quite get their tour off to a marauding start last weekend. Going down to the Bulls at Loftus was not ideal, but the Pretoria outfit played superbly well to get one over the men from Canterbury.

In a tightly contested match, it was the bullish defence of the hosts that kept the Crusaders out, even with so many dangerous strike-runners testing them around of the field. Despite dangerman Nemani Nadolo going over in the corner for the Crusaders’ only try of the night, the Bulls’ defence held strong for the rest of the encounter.

It seems as though the Sharks have taken a page out of that book and a hugely intense training session on Tuesday made it clear that they mean business this weekend. The focus was clearly on defence, and the players got stuck into each other.

Not too much can be read into the Sharks performance last weekend. With so many off-field distractions, their overall play was poor while the Force also played a fair bit of spoiling rugby.

Frans Steyn ran the show at flyhalf in Pat Lambie’s absence but it’s a complete turnaround this week with Lambie back. Steyn is out for five weeks after being banned by Sanzar for his tip tackle on Aaron Cruden, and he and fellow naughty boy Bismarck du Plessis can have a braai and watch from the comfort of home the next few weeks.

Meanwhile Kyle Cooper will continue at hooker in Du Plessis’s absence. Considering he didn’t quite stand out last weekend, Cooper needs to raise his game if he is to fill the boots of the Sharks’ captain.

One would think a number of years playing in Du Plessis’s shadow would irk the Glenwood Old Boy, but Cooper conceded that biding his time has taught him much — just as Du Plessis did when John Smit was still running around King’s Park.

“Bismarck is world-class, when people talk of hookers they talk about Bismarck. I’ve been in his shadow somewhat but I’ve learnt quite a bit and it’s always nice to get an opportunity to step up to take that starting position,” Cooper said this week.

The Crusaders arguably pose the biggest challenge the Sharks have faced from a holistic point of view. The Cantabrians play total rugby, with their pack providing the platform up front while a hugely dangerous backline waits out wide.

There will be a specific focus on things upfront.

The Crusaders have an impressive pack, but have also been trying to milk scrum penalties with some tricks only the fatties whisper about over a few pints in the pub.

The Sharks are well aware of this, and Cooper and his fellow forwards want to take things into their own hands.

“We’ve done a lot of video analysis this week and we’ve had a look at all of it.

“We know what they bring to the party and we’re going to make sure we handle it. We won’t leave it to the ref to make decisions, we’ll handle it ourselves. Whatever they bring we’ll be ready for.”

While they’re confident, the Sharks know last week’s performance wasn’t up to scratch and they will have to be vastly better to beat an All-Black laden Crusaders outfit.

The Sharks name their team later today.

Super Rugby fixtures

Friday: Hurricanes vs Stormers - 8.35 am

Rebels vs Reds - 10.40 am

Saturday: Chiefs vs Blues - 8.35 am

Brumbies vs Cheetahs - 10.40 am

Sharks vs Crusaders - 3 pm

Lions vs Bulls - 5.05 pm

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