Clash of tactics

2012-10-20 00:00

AN intriguing showdown between new and old, the buzzing, high tempo style of the Sharks and the grinding, pressure rugby of the Blue Bulls, awaits us in the Currie Cup semi-final at King’s Park this evening.

The Sharks and Bulls are loaded with Springbok team-mates, but in style and tactical approach the two teams are of different eras. The Sharks favour keeping the ball in hand and play a more modern All Black-style of rugby while the Bulls, with a brawny pack backed by the boot of Morné Steyn, follow the more conservative Springbok template for victory by aiming to turn pressure and territory into points.

The Sharks, with a mobile pack and pace in the backline, base their tactical approach on quick possession from the breakdown and playing the ball into space; the Bulls look for set-piece domination as a platform for their strong driving and accurate tactical kicking.

All this talk of contrasting strategy and tactics could, of course, be academic if the forecaster is right and we are again treated to wet-weather streetfight, a close forward encounter settled by the kickers.

The Sharks are hoping for a dry pitch that will allow flyhalf Pat Lambie to bring their lively backs, JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo, Paul Jordaan and Louis Ludik, into play. But, as captain Keegan Daniel conceded this week, there will be no dodging the torrid forward battle.

“It’s going to be a typical Sharks-Bulls clash, super-physical. At the end of the day, it will be won up front and we know what to expect from a physicality point of view.

“The Bulls do have a strong lineout, two Springbok locks [Juandré Kruger and Flip van der Merwe] up against two of our young guys [Anton Bresler and Jandré Marais],” said Daniel.

“We have to come up with certain plans to try and win clean lineout ball, as well as ways to disrupt them, because traditionally they are a strong driving team.”

The Bulls, of course, have the talents, both at three-quarter and in their backrow, to play a more attacking game. Certainly, scrumhalf Jano Vermaark will keep the Sharks loose forwards honest and they have dangerous runners out wide in the sharp-finishing Bjorn Basson, fellow-wing Akona Ndungane and outside centre JJ Engelbrecht.

The Sharks are aware of the threat.

“The last couple years they have worked on being more expansive,” said Daniel, “and they now have the ability to attack from anywhere if they want to. The set-piece is vital for them and they pride themselves in their kicking game. We need to counter that.”

The home advantage is massive for the Sharks. They have lost just one home Currie Cup game in three seasons and their only defeat in Super Rugby at King’s Park this year was a narrow one to the 2012 champions, the Waikato-based Chiefs. The Sharks have had eight successive wins over the Bulls in Durban since 2006.

But Sharks coach John Plumtree has told his players not to believe their King’s Park advantage will ensure an easy ride.

“That home record is all in the past. We will lose at home at some point and I’m hoping it is not this weekend or next.

“We know what we’re coming up against, a very hungry Bulls side looking to prove a point.”

The Sharks will draw strength from their superior defensive record in the Currie Cup, as they have conceded just 18 tries (in 10 games) to the Bulls’ 31.

But obviously Bulls flyhalf Morné Steyn, who was back in the kicking groove last Saturday, is a major threat and he could have a key ally in referee Mark Lawrence, who has on occasions this year hammered the Sharks at the breakdown.

The edge that the Sharks enjoy in playing at home could be off-set by another rainy evening, which will not only reduce the Sharks’ crowd support, but will also favour the abrasive Bulls’ forward game, and the kicking of flyhalf Steyn, rather than the free-flowing attacking style of Plumtree’s men.

But Sharks supporters are hoping that Lambie, in helping his team to their fourth final in five years, will persuade Bok coach Heyneke Meyer that he is the next Test flyhalf … and that creativity can complement the boot in winning big games.

TEAMS

Sharks – 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Jandré Marais, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Steven Sykes/Peet Marais, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Meyer Bosman.

Blue Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter (c), 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellett.

Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Dean Greyling.

Referee: Mark Lawrence.

Kick-off: 4.30 pm.

Curtain-raiser: Sharks U21 vs WP U21 (semi-final). 2.05 pm

Second semi-final: Lions vs WP, Ellis Park, 7 pm.

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