Bashford happy with Sharks’ draw in new Super?15 competition

2010-12-09 00:00

THE Currie Cup champion Sharks, confident about their squad and their playing style, open their Super 15 campaign against the Free State Cheetahs at King’s Park on February 19.

The new competition, expanded to include the Melbourne Rebels, has changed in format and teams will now play 16 games before the three knock-out rounds (quarter-finals, semi-finals and final).

The competition will stretch over six months (February 19 to July 9) — with 125 matches instead of the 94 this year — though teams will have two weekend byes.

The three pools or geographic conferences (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia) each contain five teams.

South Africa, Australia and New Zealand each host one pool and the five teams will play home and away against the other teams in their conference.

The South African teams are the Sharks, Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and Lions. The Melbourne Rebels join the Waratahs, Reds, Force and Brumbies in the Australian pool, while the Crusaders, Chiefs, Blues, Hurricanes and Highlanders compete in the New Zealand conference.

The Sharks open against the Cheetahs and then face the Blues at King’s Park in the opening fortnight. They then travel overseas for a round of four games, against teams in the other two conferences (Australia and New Zealand).

The Sharks meet the Force in Perth and the rookie Rebels in Melbourne before travelling to New Zealand to play the Chiefs and the Crusaders.

The Sharks then return home and play the Stormers and Lions in Durban before their first bye (April 16).

The second half of the Super 15 will be testing for the Sharks as they play their away games against the four South African franchises in addition to home games against the Hurricanes, Brumbies and Waratahs.

There will be 16 games of league action, eight matches against South African opponents (home and away), and eight against teams from New Zealand and Australia.

The Sharks will not meet the Queensland Reds and the Otago Highlanders in league competition, although they could play them in the knockout stages.

Six teams advance to the play-offs (instead of the four this year). The six teams will be the conference winners — guaranteeing each country an interest in the play-offs — and the three next best teams with the highest total number of points. The top two ranked conference winners get a first round bye in the playoffs and meet the winners of the other two games in the semi-finals.

Assistant coach Grant Bashford said he is happy with the Sharks’ draw. In previous years South African teams have had to criss-cross the Tasman Sea four times in playing five games in Australia and New Zealand. This year they play twice in Australia and then travel to New Zealand before flying home.

“Travelling to Perth first breaks the trip up nicely. There isn’t such a big time difference because it is the nearest overseas destination and by the second week, you’ve acclimatised,” he said.

“Going to Melbourne, where we’ve never played before, is fantastic and the players will enjoy the new experience.

“But the tour is only as good as the results so we’ll be looking to start it off on a bang.”

Sharks Super 15 fixtures (home team first, SA time):

Feb 19 Sharks vs Cheetahs, 5.05 pm

Feb 26 Sharks vs Blues, 5.05 pm

March 5 Western Force vs Sharks, 1.05 pm

March 11 Rebels vs Sharks 10.40 am

March 18 Chiefs vs Sharks 8.35 am

March 25 Crusaders vs Sharks 8.35 am

April 2 Sharks vs Stormers 5.05 pm

April 9 Sharks vs Lions 7.10 pm

April 15/16 bye

April 23 Sharks vs Hurricanes 5.05 pm

April 30 Stormers vs Sharks 7.10 pm

May 7 Sharks vs Brumbers 7.10 pm

May 14 Sharks bye

May 21 Sharks vs Bulls 7.10 pm

May 28 Sharks vs Waratahs 5.05 pm

June 4 Cheetahs vs Sharks 5.05 pm

June 11 Lions vs Sharks 4.05 pm

June 18 Bulls vs Sharks 5.05 pm

June 25 Quarterfinals.

July 2 Semi-finals

July 9 Final

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