Sharks to face their most hostile foes yet

2013-03-09 00:00

THE siege mentality created among the Southern Kings’ players and supporters will prove a powerful ally when they face the Sharks in the Super Rugby clash at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth tonight.

The Kings believe they have been unfairly labelled the pariahs of the rugby world, following their unorthodox promotion to the big time, with their boss Cheeky Watson telling them often enough that South African administrators have set them up to fail.

This state of mind, this feeling of being picked on, is an effective rallying point and motivating tool, and the Port Elizabeth response, on and off the field, has been predictable. Some 32 000 spectators watched the Kings’ opening game against the limited Western Force, the weakest of the Australian franchises, and the home team played with passion for an upset and and emotional 22-10 win.

But tonight it is even bigger, the carrot even juicier. They are up against the Sharks, their glamorous near-neighbours, Super Rugby finalists last year and one of the favourites to reach the play-offs again. The Kings are hoping to fill their 48 459-seater stadium which, in itself, would be a remarkable achievement.

It is unlikely that the Sharks will play in a more hostile environment all season, as they face opponents desperate to prove their worth to a sceptical South African audience, and in front of the most partisan of crowds.

In terms of skill and experience, the battle-hardened Sharks, crowded with Springboks, should ride roughshod over the Super Rugby rookies. But Sharks coach John Plumtree is aware that an astutely coached team, a fair spread of eager talent and an intense desire to succeed, make for a potent mix.

“There are a lot of seasoned campaigners in the Kings team, along with some young, enthusiastic guys,” he said. “They’re definitely capable and tough.”

Plumtree was impressed with former Western Province flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis in the game against the Force.

“He controlled the game well behind the strong Kings’ setpiece. I like their fullback, SP Marias, who reminds me of an Israel Dagg [the All Black fullback] and they also have an experienced midfield in Andries Strauss and Ronnie Cooke.”

The Kings, fresh after their bye last weekend, are coached by Matt Sexton and the New Zealander is anticipating a physical battle.

“Our aim is to improve our ball retention. During the Force game we made in excess of 100 tackles in the first half. If you take those statistics into every game, sooner or later you’re going to run out of petrol, so we want to make sure we retrieve the ball and hold on to it.”

Plumtree said the Kings would aim to pressure the Sharks in the setpieces.

“But that’s also a big part of our game now and our scrums and lineouts have been going well. We’re hoping we find some space, provide Pat Lambie [flyhalf] with quick ball and involve our attackers. The Kings looked to do the same against the Force so it could be an attractive spectacle on what looks a very good surface.”

Plumtree said the players are aware of the dangers posed by such a game.

“We’ve dropped our guard in the past and that’s cost us.”

But he hopes the problem has been addressed and says it is up to the individual players to maintain their standards.

“In a team culture, your standards are your lifeblood. If your standards are low, you’ll perform poorly.

“For me to stand up in front of the team and say ‘listen boys, this game is a potential banana-peel’, is no good. They’ve heard it all before. It’s about what is going through their minds, and making sure that collectively they are ready to go.”

What is certain is that the Kings — and their crowd — will at the Sharks’ throats from the kick off. For the second time in seven days, the Sharks will have to trade bruises in a fiercely physical confrontation.

The Sharks’ objective will be to take charge from the start and quickly douse the excitement on the field and in the stands. The longer the Kings stay in the game, the noisier and more uncomfortable the Sharks’ evening will become and pressure does funny things.

TEAMS

Kings: 15. S. P. Marais, 14. Sergeal Petersen, 13. Ronnie Cooke, 12. Andries Strauss, 11. Marcello Sampson, 10. Demetri Catrakilis, 9. Shaun Venter, 8. Jacques Engelbrecht, 7. Wimpie van der Walt, 6. Cornell du Preez, 5. Steven Sykes 4. Darron Nell (captain), 3. Kevin Buys, 2. Bandise Maku, 1. Schalk Ferreira.

Replacements: 16. Edgar Marutlulle, 17. Jaco Engels, 18. David Bulbring, 19. Luke Watson, 20. Nicolas Vergallo, 21. George Whitehead, 22. Hadleigh Parkes.

Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. J. P. Pietersen, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Francois Steyn (captain), 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Meyer Bosman, 22. Odwa Ndungane.

Referee: Jason Jaftha (SA). Kick off: 7.10 pm.

Weekend fixtures: (home team first, SA times):

Today: Highlanders vs Cheetahs 8.35 am; Brumbies vs Waratahs 10.40 am; Stormers vs Chiefs 5.05 pm; Kings vs Sharks 7.10 pm.

Tomorrow: Blues vs Bulls 5.05 am; Bye: Force.

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