Sharks promise to keep title

2009-07-09 00:00

THE Sharks will only be naming their side to take on Western Province in Cape Town on Saturday after assessing the fitness of Springbok Ryan Kankowski and newly-promoted flyhalf Guy Cronje.

Both players are carrying minor knocks and morning practice today will give them the opportunity to claim a start for the opening clash of the Currie Cup.

Despite having lost players to the national set-up, the Sharks aren’t going to use that as any excuse; last year they suffered the same fate and look where they ended up? While lessons have been learned, assistant coach Grant Bashford admits that they can’t gain any advantage from their status as reigning champs.

“Every campaign starts with a clean slate,” he points out. “Last year is behind us and while it’s great to have happened, we now have to start all over again. We do have a formidable pack with some experience as well as inexperience among the backs so it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

Any notion that they will play boring, conservative rugby is tempered by the fact that they plan to play winning rugby – however that is constructed. But says Bashford, fans can be sure of the fact that they will go out there and play to the best of their ability in defence of their title.

“What we’ll guarantee is that we’ll get out there and play and really give 100%, the youngsters are really excited about the challenge. We are in the same boat as last year, for the first few rounds we had a mixed bag every week and it will probably be no different this time, but we just have to get out there, put our hands up and make it count.”

With Province having named newly-signed Chris Jack in their team for Saturday’s game, they will be looking to bolster their forward pack against a very solid and experienced Sharks’ pack. He and Anton van Zyl, who made the move south from the Lions following the conclusion of the Vodacom Super 14, will square off against Sharks captain Johann Muller and Steven Sykes, who have developed into a formidable partnership over the past year.

However, much of Province’s game will rely around the boot of Willem de Waal, who proved to be the man for the big moments when he converted a touchline conversion for the Emerging Boks to steal a draw away from the British & Irish Lions recently.

He brings an enormous and educated boot to the game although it does tend to detract from Province’s historic tendency to play attacking, running rugby. It does however bring structure to an unstructured game plan and the Sharks are only too well aware of the dangers his boot poses.

“Willem de Waal is really good at controlling the game,” admits Bashford. “We’ve seen with him in the past that when he’s played they’ve tended to adopt a far more tactical, kicking-orientated game.”

The impressive Duane Vermeulen has not made the match 22 and Luke Watson will captain the side which includes returning Springbok Ricky Januarie as well as another new signing in, Frikkie Welsh, on the wing.

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