Six good reasons to win

2012-07-14 00:00

THE Sharks, whether by accident or design, would dearly love to mark time and still be in sixth position when the dust settles on the gruelling, protracted Super Rugby competition this evening.

The Sharks, up against the lively Cheetahs at King’s Park this evening, went into the 18th round of fixtures in sixth place. (They did drop to seventh yesterday after the Hurricanes, now fourth on 57 points, upset the Chiefs 28-25).

The Sharks will be hoping to wrap up their frustratingly inconsistent campaign with a victory that would allow the draw to fall neatly in their favour, allowing for a trip to Canberra to face the young Brumbies rather than the long haul to New Zealand’s South Island to face seven-time champions Crusaders.

They are alongside the Bulls on 54 log points with the Pretoria franchise in sixth place because of their superior points difference. Lurking just a point further back on the log are the Reds, on 53 points, who complete their programme today against the Waratahs. A bonus point win for the Reds in Brisbane would result in the Sharks and the Bulls — against the Lions at Loftus tonight — having to win their games with four tries to overtake both the Reds and Hurricanes and fill positions fifth and sixth on the log.

The Chiefs and Stormers have won their respective conferences, the third-placed Brumbies are almost there, and the Crusaders seem certain to finish fourth. The Crusaders will meet the team finishing fifth in the playoffs, with the Australian conference winners (almost certainly the Brumbies) meeting the team sixth on the log.

The Sharks, who beat the Brumbies 29-26 at the end of March, are hoping for a replay of that game, and victory in Canberra could well have them travelling back to meet the Stormers, now strong favourites for top spot, in Cape Town in the semi-finals.

But this all depends on results falling in their favour this weekend, and Sharks captain Keegan Daniel is adamant the Sharks will not try to manipulate the log standings by doing just enough to stay sixth.

“No way are we going to be thinking ‘let’s not score another try or we might play the Crusaders’. We will approach this game just as we did against the Bulls. Obviously it’s a shorter trip to Canberra, but somewhere along the line you have to play the top teams and we have to win away from home to win this competition.”

But first things first, and the Sharks’ focus was on beating the Cheetahs, he said. He does not expect the Cheetahs to change their expansive, exciting approach.

“They have some great attacking players, so they can score from anywhere. But this is another South African encounter between two teams who both want to dominate upfront. We won that battle upfront against the Bulls last weekend and we’ll focus on doing that again.”

If the Sharks pick up where they left off against the Bulls, they will be too slick and powerful for the Cheetahs. But if they fall back on old habits and play as they did in losing against the Lions at Ellis Park, then they and their supporters will be dragged through another uncomfortable evening.

It has been swings and roundabouts for the Sharks this week with Bismarck du Plessis dropping to the bench with a slight injury as Pat Lambie and Willem Alberts return. The bustling, in-form Du Plessis will be missed, but Craig Burden, energetic, busy and quick, has strengths of his own. Lambie will add to the Sharks’ attacking options while Alberts provides a hefty boost for a talented bench.

But as we have seen this year, so much of the Sharks’ rugby is played in the six inches between their ears.

“We will have to be on the money against a tough Cheetahs outfit,” said coach John Plumtree. “You can talk about it all week, but if the boys aren’t mentally up for it in the game, they can get hurt.”

And he is speaking from painful experience.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Jandre Marais 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden 1. Beast Mtawarira.

Replacements 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Pieter-Steph du Toit/Jean Deysel, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Meyer Bosman/Paul Jordaan, 22 Louis Ludik

Cheetahs:15 Willie le Roux, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Philip Snyman, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.

Replacements 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Jacques Coetzee, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Andries Strauss.

Referee: Jaco Peyper. Kick-off: 5.05 pm.

Today’s fixtures (home team first, SA times): Brumbies v Blues 7.30 am, Crusaders v Force 9.35 am, Reds v Waratahs 11.40 am, Stormers v Rebels 3 pm, Sharks v Cheetahs 5.05 pm, Bulls v Lions 7.10 pm.

Points position of Top 6 contenders (games played in brackets): Chiefs (16) 64, Stormers (15) 62, Brumbies (15) 58, Hurricanes (16) 57, Crusaders (15) 56, Bulls (15) 54, Sharks (15) 54, Reds (15) 53

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