Daniel relishing Loftus duel

2012-02-23 00:00

KEEGAN Daniel, the Sharks’ new Super Rugby captain, is looking forward to grappling with the Bulls on their home turf at Loftus tomorrow evening.


Daniel, who led the Sharks in the Currie Cup last year after playing Super Rugby under veterans John Smit and Stefan Terblanche, said that Loftus “is one of my favourite grounds”.

“I love playing at Loftus and the games we‘ve played against each other over the last couple of years have always been massive clashes.”

While Daniel is not intimidated by Loftus he is expecting the toughest of contests.

“We can definitely expect a physical game. There won’t be anything too flash for the opening few minutes with some bruising exchanges up front.”

The Bulls, like the Sharks, have lost a number of experienced campaigners, but Daniel is wary.

“They have a younger, fresher look about them, but they have a really good rugby culture, one built over a number of years. I’m really looking forward to Friday.”

Coach John Plumtree agreed that the Sharks should feel at home at Loftus.

“We’ve got to go up there to Pretoria with the mindset that this is a home game and we’re going to win. We enjoy playing them and they enjoy playing us. We’ve had a great rivalry over the years.

“This game will have great intensity. Even though it’s an early season game, both sides will be very fit and very physical and that will last for 80 minutes.”

Plumtree said that the Sharks were desperate to win the South African conference to gain home advantage in the play-offs, rather than having to travel down under as they did last year

“That is what we are after. We’ve got to get that confidence high and we have to treat Loftus as a home game. We’ve played there enough to believe that. I’m sure the Bulls won’t have that attitude and they’ll be saying that Loftus is their territory.”

Daniel said that the Sharks’ pre-season preparation had been the toughest in his six years with the Sharks.

“The way the game is going, the way the game is played and with new laws, you need an ultimate level of fitness, week in and week out.

“That’s something we’ve really concentrated on and the guys are looking in really good nick. You could see that in the way we played the warm-up games, the energy and the work they put in.”

He is not feeling the pressure of leading the team, he said.

“I had the support of Stefan Terblanche in the Currie Cup last year and I have the backing of Bismarck du Plessis and senior Springboks this year.

“Each player is a leader in his own right and Bismarck and I have played a lot together and we have a good relationship.”

There were similar noises coming out of Pretoria yesterday as coach Frans Ludeke looked to his young guns to fire from day one of the tournament.

Ludeke said he was confident the new centre pairing of Johann Sadie and Francois Venter would handle the occasion.

“We know what these youngsters bring to the team,” he said. “We haven’t really had players with their skills for some time. They offer us something new.”

Sadie, like Tim Whitehead for the Sharks, is a former Stormer and both he and Venter were last year tipped by current national coach Heyneke Meyer as future Boks.

Ludeke also still has many of the old faces.

“It is an exciting time and all the players are also looking forward to the start of the season. It is a new era, but we are building on a solid foundation.”

Bok number eight Pierre Spies, who has taken over from Victor Matfield as captain, said the players were enthusiastic about the season.

“We are a new team, but share the same values and vision and that will be of big value to us. We are starting something new and building our own legacy as a group and it is going to be an exciting season.”

Ludeke echoed Plumtree’s view of the importance of winning in this country. “We want to challenge for the South African conference and that will start with winning our home matches. We dropped points at home last year and we want to make Loftus a fortress again.”

Tomorrow’s game kicks off at 7.10 pm with Jonathan Kaplan as the referee.

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