‘Toulon clash good test of Sharks’ readiness’

2015-02-04 00:00

AT their beautiful base in the South of France, the Sharks are finalising preparations for their north vs south clash against European giants Toulon tomorrow night.

Former English and British and Irish Lions prop Matt Stevens is the perfect man to speak about the rigours of rugby up north and the burly prop is enjoying their short stay in France. “It’s a beautiful summer’s day. It will be a little bit chilly but that’s fine. It’s a welcome change to the Durban humidity,” Stevens said yesterday.

There is no doubt the prop is enjoying the respite from KwaZulu-Natal’s unrelenting summer heat but the Sharks have benefitted from the hot conditions at home. Tomorrow night’s match will be a good gauge of the Sharks’ readiness for Super Rugby, which starts in a week and half.

“In terms of our preparation, we’ve done brilliantly. We have a fit team and we’re raring to go and looking forward to playing the best side in the Northern Hemisphere,” an upbeat Stevens said.

The pre-season clash offers a unique opportunity to go up against a vastly different playing style and Stevens conceded it would be an intriguing clash.

While the Sharks have a powerful pack, their affinity for quick open play will be tested by the European outfit that tends to play closer in the tight phases before taking the ball wide with a plethora of international backs.

“It’s good for us to test ourselves against a team like Toulon, filled with internationals, some of the best players in the world. I think they will be keen to toss the ball around as well, so we don’t expect it to be a game of north versus south,” he said.

“Toulon have a number of players from the southern hemisphere, they like to play a bit, offload the ball. Yes, they have big, strong ball-carriers and they will be very physical, but they also have the kind of players who can play wide and some serious strike runners.”

While some may doubt the reasoning of playing a northern hemisphere side before Super Rugby, which is classically fast-paced, Stevens believes Toulon will be a good dress rehearsal for their opening clash against the Cheetahs next Saturday.

“The Cheetahs are a team that like a driving game, which Toulon do too, they drive a lot of their lineout ball, so that will be a good test for us. What’s also been indicative of Cheetahs rugby over the past 15 years or so is their ability to play a bit looser and throw the ball around,” Stevens said.

The Sharks take on Toulon tomorrow night.

The match starts at 10 pm.

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