It’s D-day as Sharks face fiery home test

2014-07-19 00:00

IT’S D-day for the Sharks as they begin the business end of their Super Rugby campaign against the Highlanders at King’s Park this evening.

The Durban side, the early season pace-setters, lost some of their momentum towards the tail end of the competition with back-to-back defeats to the Stormers and Cheetahs in the last three weeks. But they showed signs of regaining their touch with the emphatic 34-10 away from home at Newlands seven days ago.

And ahead of their play-off qualifier against the New Zealanders, director of rugby Jake White believes the win over the Stormers was a massive result in the context of their season.

“If we had beaten Free State and then lost to the Stormers, we would have been going into this play-off game with probably a mentally fragile group of players,” White said ahead of the game.

“The way my players fronted up last week, coming to within eight points and a try of getting a home semi-final when people were saying it’s mission impossible, must be a positive boost for us as a group.

“So we’re looking forward to playing in front of our home crowd, we’re looking forward to the fact that if we get a win here we can go back to New Zealand and Australia and play there again. We’ve said it many times, we’re here to win the competition and we want to win it.”

Their indifferent recent form has also meant they had to wave goodbye to any home advantage, apart from this game, in the play-offs, something the senior players have admitted was a “bitter pill to swallow”.

But White has always been confident of success, whether it be home or away.

And he was confident this week of taking that first step to glory against a Highlanders team who in actual fact may be the very reason why the Sharks are not hosting one of the semi-finals, by virtue of ending in the top two.

The Otago outfit claimed a shock 34-18 win at King’s Park earlier in the season.

“In a lot of ways, it’s probably a good thing for us, a boost that they beat us,” White said.

“Had we beaten them comfortably perhaps we would have gone into this game thinking it was a fait accompli. We get to have another crack at them and the players don’t need any motivation than to look back at that result.”

The Highlanders also have little play-off pedigree, the least of the six teams in this stage, having last reached the knock-out round in 2002.

The Sharks on the other hand have rich knock-out history, and are bidding to reach the last four for a South African record eighth time.

White believes that experience will help them in a game that has all the makings of international Test rugby.

“What excites me the most is that it’s a Test match, it’s the way you play Test match rugby,” he added. “We almost have a Test team, they’ve all been part of Test matches.

“They understand what’s coming in the next couple of weeks.”

Victory will book White’s men a meeting with the Crusaders in Christchurch, while the winner of the other qualifier between the Brumbies and defending champions Chiefs will meet the Waratahs in Sydney.


Sharks: 15. SP Marais, 14. S’bura Sithole, 13. JP Pietersen, 12. Paul Jordaan, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Frans Steyn, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Stephan Lewies, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1. Thomas du Toit

Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Etienne Oosthuizen, 20. Jean Deysel, 21. Charl McLeod, 22. Pat Lambie, 23. Tonderai Chavhanga

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7. Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Kane Hames

Substitutes: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 JP Koen, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Tom Franklin, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 Gareth Evans.

Today’s play-off fixtures: 11.40 am - Brumbies v Chiefs, 5.05 pm - Sharks v Highlanders.

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