Sharks primed for battle of collisions

2008-05-23 00:00

Sydney — For more than a century those involved have racked their brains about how to approach a semi-final clash.

While the prize for which you’ve sweated it out is now almost tangible, one slip-up could cost you everything. Like standard nine (or whatever it’s called now) or an engagement. You’re on the threshold, but …

The same question will have been gnawing away at the Waratahs and Sharks rugby teams in the run-up to today’s Super 14 semi-final clash at the Aussie stadium, and someone who has been trying to unravel this psychological conundrum is Sharks prop Jannie du Plessis.

“For me, the approach to a semi-final is tougher than to a final. You still want to play your natural game, but there’s a bit more pressure. The senior players have to come to the fore in a semi-final … an AJ Venter, a Johann Muller. I think the first five minutes will determine which side will play with the greatest self-confidence,” said Du Plessis.

If it is assumed that the physical capabilities of teams that have qualified for the semi-finals are beyond reproach, then the chaff, psychologically speaking, has to be separated from the wheat.

“It’s all about having the self-confidence to play your game and not to retreat into your shell,” says Waratahs captain Phil Waugh.

A team’s ability to stay calm under intense pressure will then be the deciding factor.

“Penalties and dropkicks play a part,” said Waugh, with Sharks sharpshooter Francois Steyn in the back of his mind.

“Our discipline will be a big factor. Discipline has definitely been one of their strong points this year.”

It’s one thing not to concede penalties, but to maintain your line of defence is another factor. Both the Sharks and the Waratahs take the field today in the knowledge that their opponents see their defence in the midfield as vulnerable.

“It’s always difficult to protect the number 10 channel. Every team’s defence is exposed there from time to time,” said Waratahs flank Rocky Elsom.

The Waratahs’ midfield today consists of flyhalf Kurtley Beale and the relatively untried centre pairing of Tom Carter and Rob Horne. If the visitors want to penetrate the defence today, that is surely where they will have to try and wriggle their way through.

But the Waratahs know that the Sharks midfield trio attack with the ball under the arm and will be looking forward to the challenge. Ruan Pienaar’s self-confidence has returned, Adrian Jacobs’s game has the coach believing in him again, while Steyn can only hope that his sore ribs were not also mentioned in the Waratahs’ team talks.

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