That Cheetah hoodoo

2011-02-19 00:00

THE phoney war is over, the speculation and preparations done, and the Sharks will be looking to turn words into actions when they take on the Cheetahs in their Super Rugby opener at King’s Park this evening.

The Sharks, with depth in talent, an astute coach, an enterprising game plan, and playing in their own backyard, will be massively disappointed if they do not start their campaign with a win. But, as everyone has been telling them for days, the Cheetahs, often as underdogs, have delighted in upsetting fancied Sharks teams in the past.

Coach Naka Drotské is looking to the Cheetahs’ combative, in-your-face approach to break the rhythm of John Plumtree’s charges and prevent them playing their high-paced attacking game. The Free Staters will have an ally in the Durban humidity and the Sharks will have to temper their approach, mixing kicking with running, if the conditions are uncomfortably hot and the ball is slippery.

Plumtree admits that the humidity is a major concern, “a great leveller” in the game while also sapping the energy of the Sharks during training.

“We’ve done a heap of conditioning indoors and spent less time outside. We’ve catered for our outdoor needs in Rustenburg and had a week in Cape Town. But this fortnight leading into the game has been tough. The humidity drains the players and we try to keep sessions as short as possible. We have to put a big emphasis on rehydration and recovery because of the heat, and that’s just being smart.”

But these Sharks should have too much pace and power, both fore and aft, for the Free Staters who will be without their two most potent backrowers in captain Juan Smith and Heinrich Brussow.

The Sharks have both talent and experience in their squad with 13 players in their starting line-up who have seen action at international level while a glance at the respective benches underlines the superior firepower in Plumtree’s squad. Still, coach Naka Drotské is confident the Cheetahs can again rattle the Shark cage. They have a strong and talented front-row in WP Nel, captain Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen and, while their new-look lock pairing may lack authority, their pack will be mobile and enthusiastic.

Former Sharks centre, the hard-tackling Andries Strauss, will bring a tough defensive edge to the Cheetahs midfield. Certainly his opposite number, Meyer Bosman, who passed him on the N3 going the other way on his move from Bloemfontein to Durban at the end of last year, and flyhalf Pat Lambie will not find it easy to break the gainline.

Bosman, a calm, smooth distributor, is a valuable gain and he will add a new dimension to the Sharks’ backplay and create openings for those outside him.

Drotské said his squad had prepared exceptionally well for the long season and his players were up for the challenge. “There are always mixed feelings ahead of the opening game because the guys are excited but they are also a little nervous. We had a long pre-season in which the guys worked very hard, so I could not have asked for more from them going into the series. It is now time to transfer that hard work on to the field and do what they do best.”

The Sharks, with a solid, physical pack, a mix of pace and brawn at loose forward, a lively halfback pairing in Charl McLeod and Lambie, and willing runners at outside three-quarter, have all the necessary tools to do the job. If they maintain their focus and play sensibly, the Free State hoodoo will count for nothing and they will open their Super Rugby challenge on a winning note.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Stefan Terblanche, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Alistair Hargreaves, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. John Smit (captain).

Replacements: 16. Tendai Mtawarira, 17. Eugene van Staden, 18. Anton Bresler, 19. Keegan Daniel, 20. Conrad Hoffmann, 21. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22. Adrian Jacobs.

Cheetahs: 15. Hennie Daniller, 14. Philip Burger, 13. Robert Ebersohn, 12. Andries Strauss, 11. Ryno Benjamin, 10. Naas Olivier, 9. Sarel Pretorius, 8. Kabamba Floors, 7. Philip van der Walt, 6. Frans Viljoen, 5. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4. Francois Uys, 3. WP Nel, 2. Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1. Coenie Oosthuizen.

Replacements: 16. Ryno Barnes, 17. Kobus Calldo, 18. Waltie Vermeulen, 19. Ashley Johnson, 20. Tewis de Bruyn, 21. Sias Ebersohn, 22. Riaan Viljoen.

Referee: Craig Joubert (RSA).

ON TV

Today: Kickoff 5.05 pm – live on M-Net HD, M-Net and SuperSport 1

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