Sharks hard at work

2015-02-24 00:00

THE Sharks are set to face a fired-up Bulls outfit this weekend when they travel to Loftus for their third Super Rugby clash of the competition.

While the Durban side claimed an impressive 29-12 win over the Lions at a rain-soaked King’s Park, the Bulls suffered their second successive defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes in their own backyard.

Sharks off-the-ball coach Paul Anthony has been hard at work nitpicking his players’ work-rates around the field. It is a comical sight to see Anthony hounding his players with a loud-speaker in hand, but the former Bulls coach believes their focus on intensity off the ball has become vitally important.

“We believe that’s a part of the game you don’t need talent for — it’s about wanting to do it and we are demanding in that area. I’m putting a lot of effort in so that we as team really come to the table with our A-game and not for a lack of trying,” he said after another hot training session in Durban yesterday.

“The other team have to be really good to beat us — that’s what we’re looking for — honest, hard performances from the players.”

And the Sharks did just that on the weekend. Playing in very difficult conditions, the home side blew away the Lions in both the scrums and lineouts while their mauls were just as ferocious. It was a welcome relief from a week ago, when the Sharks looked lethargic and slow against the Cheetahs.

“That was beyond the call of duty and we were absolutely over the moon with the scrummaging and the mauling. As we’ve said, it’s all about performance. We are looking to improve week in and week out and we have to keep working at that.”

While the Bulls nearly had the win last weekend — denied when lock Grant ­Hattingh’s finger grazed the touchline as he dived over for a try in the corner — Anthony believes their set-pieces are in better shape than many pundits would believe.

“The Bulls lineout and scrums have traditionally been brilliant and there is nothing wrong with the way they contest. They have top players there, Victor Matfield’s been around a while, Grant’s a great player and Pierre Spies is also there. We are not taking anything for granted and we’ve got to be up for it. The public may have had an outcry — but we know they are working hard.”

The Sharks would do well to heed those words as the Bulls have often bounced back from losses to claim spectacular wins. Bar one or two areas of concern, the Bulls were competitive at stages and if they get their tails up it could be a long night in Pretoria for the visitors.

“We can’t afford to drop our intensity — this competition is too tough. We lost the game against the Cheetahs by a millimetre and the Bulls lost theirs in the same way — the games are very tight. You’ve got to come out and perform, you can’t sit back. We are hedging our bets on every player performing — that’s what we want,” Anthony said.

The Sharks will have to play smartly against the Bulls and a clever use of Highveld conditions will come in handy. Like their win over the Lions, the Sharks will need to play rugby in the right parts of the field — as director of rugby Gary Gold highlighted during the weekend.

That calls for another night of accurate kicking from Sharks halfbacks Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach, while the rest of the side will need to be accurate on the kick-chase — which the Bulls are renowned for.

It is sure to be another tough, physical and exciting South African derby.

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