A contest of contrasts

2010-04-17 00:00

THE emphasis of the Sharks is on sharpening their attack, the Lions on tightening their defence, and it will be a Super 14 contest of contrasts at Ellis Park this evening.

The Sharks, the team with the worst attacking record in the Super 14, take on the worst defenders in the competition, and it should be an intriguing tussle.

John Plumtree’s squad, with an unsettled back line and short of creative, incisive runners, have battled all season to score tries.

The Lions, with a strong emphasis on attack but less on defence, have leaked points at a steady rate.

The Sharks, in a string of closely fought results, have yet to record a bonus point for scoring four tries in one game and, indeed, have scored only 12 in eight outings. But they do have the fourth-best defensive record in the Super 14, and have conceded 18 tries — fewer than the Bulls (20) and the Waratahs (24).

The Lions, with new coach Dick Muir encouraging an expansive, ambitious approach, have run in 25 tries, more than the third-placed Crusaders (20) and one less than the log-leading Stormers (26). But they have come horribly unstuck because their porous defence has conceded a massive 43 tries in eight successive defeats.

What seems certain is that we will see an improved Lions defensive effort tonight. An emergency call was made this week by Muir to former Springbok wing and defensive coach Ray Mordt — and the outcry among dismayed Lions’ supporters will have further stiffened the players’ resolve.

Plumtree knows the committed Lions will be up to the challenge.

“There will certainly be more to the Lions than we have seen so far this season,” he told the Weekend Witness yesterday. “They have been under the pump so they won’t be short of intensity.”

Muir agrees.

“We still haven’t won a game and we will be the more desperate.”

Muir, who had his friend Plumtree as his assistant when he coached the Sharks, conceded that it will be a night of personal battles. The unseemly squabble over former Lions’ number eight Willem Alberts’ contract has added an edge to the contest and so has the rivalry between the two coaches.

“Plum and I are mates,” said Muir, “but it will add some spice to the game. Ray [Mordt] will bring a toughness to our team and the Sharks have battled to score tries, so I’m looking forward to this challenge.”

Muir would like nothing more than the chance to blow a deafening raspberry at his old team, and particularly their officials, while ending even the slight mathematical chance the Sharks have of reaching the playoffs.

His captain Cobus Grobbelaar said that the Lions will play a more balanced game and certainly the selection of another former Shark, flyhalf Herkie Kruger, in place of Carlos Spencer will result in more tactical kicking. “We are hurting more than our supporters, but we owe them a win and we are focused,” said Grobbelaar.

The Sharks, with their hard-driving, ball-carrying forwards, are committed to playing a territorial game around their pack as they successfully did in the second half against the Reds.

Certainly Plumtree is banking on his big men, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel, Bismarck du Plessis and John Smit, to carry up the ball hard and often.

But the Sharks coach is also aware that Muir’s men will try to stretch his big pack, and first-time tackles and accuracy with the kick-and-chase will be critical if the Lions are to be kept under wraps.

The Lions have a number of capable individuals in centre Doppies le Grange, try-scoring scrumhalf Jano Vermaark and two experienced flanks in Wikus van Heerden and Grobbelaar, who will prove a particular nuisance at the breakdown, and there is pace in the back line.

The Sharks, with the momentum and behind a strong pack, will win if they take their chances and keep making their tackles. Anything less and they will be punished, providing, of course, that the Lions’ helter-skelter attack is finally complemented by stern defence.


Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (captain).

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Andries Strauss, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.

Lions: 15. Michael Killian, 14. Tonderai Chavhanga, 13. Marius Delport, 12. Doppies la Grange, 11. Wandile Mjekevu, 10. Herkie Kruger, 9. Jano Vermaak, 8. Todd Clever, 7. Wikus van Heerden, 6. Cobus Grobbelaar (captain), 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Nico Luus, 3. Gert Muller, 2. Hans van Dyk, 1. JC Janse van Rensburg.

Replacements: 16. Hannes Franklin, 17. Heinke van der Merwe, 18. Willem Stoltz, 19. Derick Minnie, 20. Chris Jonck, 21. Deon van Rensburg, 22. Carlos Spencer.

Kickoff: 5.05 pm Referee: Mark Lawrence (SA)

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