Sharks opt for low-key pre-season clashes

2013-02-01 00:00

WHILE the Bulls, Stormers and Cheetahs are flexing their muscles against Super Rugby opposition in their pre-season friendlies, the Sharks are taking on two platteland teams in their warm-up games.

The Sharks’ season starts with an outing against the Leopards at Woodburn Stadium in Pietermaritzburg next Friday. The Sharks then have a second friendly against the Pumas in Nelspruit on February 15 before opening their Super Rugby season against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on February 23.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske, rolling out most of his big guns, has made 14 changes to the side that lost to the Lions last week for their high-profile, televised “Reconciliation Cup” friendly with the Stormers in Bloemfontein tomorrow.

Drotske described the Stormers as a top team and said any Cheetahs players who performed well against them “will make it anywhere in Super Rugby”.

“I’d rather have a game against a top team than two friendlies against weak teams that you win by 50 points and mean little in testing your strength,” he said.

The Sharks, in contrast, believe they will be better served by a low key build-up to the season.

Assistant coach Grant Bashford told The Witness yesterday that there was no right and wrong way to prepare for the season.

“It’s not an exact science. For a number of years we used to travel to Newlands for a pre-season triangular tournament against Super Rugby teams. We did not find that satisfactory and we believe that playing teams like the Leopards and the Pumas will be more beneficial.

“They will provide the physical challenge we need, no doubt of that, but we hope these games will also allow us to work on our team structures and build some confidence ahead of Super Rugby.”

Bashford said that they were also not keen on looking for more games against the leading SA teams like the Bulls, Stormers and Cheetahs.

“We already play those teams four times [home and away in both the Super Rugby and Currie Cup competitions] every year.”

The backline coach said that the Sharks squad members would be mixed and matched in the two friendlies. “We plan to give all the squad players some game time, either at Woodburn or in Nelspruit, before the start of the season.”

Pre-season preparations, he said, had concentrated on match fitness and conditioning.

“The players are really feeling it at the end of each hard week. Unfortunately, we do have a couple of niggles, especially in the front row, although the only major one is Bismarck du Plessis who will miss some game time.

“We’re all looking forward to playing and the warm-up match in Pietermaritzburg next Friday comes at just the right time.”

Bashford is in his eighth year with the Sharks.

“In the past we’ve started the competition really well and finished slowly or started slowly and finished well,” he said.

“Our goal is consistency. In a tournament like this, you will pick up losses and very few sides remain unbeaten, but it’s about being able to get back up and improve the next week.

“We need to be consistent so we don’t lose twice in a row. That’s where we let ourselves down last year. We got on a losing roll and then had to get on to a really big winning roll at the end to get to the final.

“This year we have to stay in the race the whole way through, performing week in and week out.”

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