Remember the Reds

2009-04-10 00:00

Remember Brisbane, the Reds and March 14. That would have been the message all week from rival coaches, John Plumtree to the Sharks and Naka Drotske to the Cheetahs, ahead of today’s Super 14 outing in Bloemfontein.

Plumtree will have been reminding his players that there is no easy game in this competition as they found against the struggling Reds that day when they were beaten 25-13; Drotske will have used that upset result to convince his charges that anything is possible if the Reds, lying in 13th spot on the log, could bring down the Sharks.

Of course, the Sharks, topping the log with 30 points and with seven wins in eight games, should beat the basement-dwelling Cheetahs, who have yet to win a game and have only picked up two bonus points this season. There is also a points difference of 187 between the two teams with the Sharks on plus 68 and the Cheetahs in the red by 119 points.

But the Cheetahs certainly have more to offer than that. They know how to beat the Sharks and have an excellent record against them, they are at home and this is one of those South African derbies when form, recent history and log standings go out the window.

“These derby games are always tough,” said Sharks captain Johann Muller this week. “The log positions mean nothing. We know it will be physical and hard up there and we will have to be at our best to beat them. There can be no excuses for not pitching up on the day.”

He said the Sharks learnt a hard lesson in Brisbane “and we have to make sure we don’t do that again”.

The Cheetahs have a back row as effective as any in the country with the wholehearted Juan Smith joined by Hendro Scholtz and Heinrich Brüssow, the scrambler who will test the Sharks at the tackle. They scrum well and their lineout is a valuable source of possession. There were suggestions against the Brumbies that their attack was finding some cohesion, while the challenge of having the Sharks in the opposite corner is certain to plug holes in their often porous defence.

The Sharks, in turn, are looking to play more rugby with the ball than has been the case in most of their matches when they have won games, some by wide margins, but still spent far too long defending.

The Sharks, arguably the most dangerous counter-attackers in the competition, certainly have the quality to keep winning, with five Bok front-row men in the 22 to provide a solid base and talent spread across the field.

But as we have seen, so many of these Super 14 games are played in the six inches between the ears and this is particularly true of the all-South African clashes.

Cheetahs, abandoned by even their home supporters last weekend, will be far better today than their log position would suggest and they will be desperate to cause the upset of the season. The Sharks, if they are accurate and single-minded — and the Brisbane defeat should have focused their minds wonderfully — should set themselves up for a home semi-final with a win today.

Plumtree knows what awaits his team.

“They will be waiting for us. I can hear those Harleys roaring already,” he said, referring to the bikers who take to the field shortly before kick-off, Bloem’s answer to the Sharks’ flasher-girls.

The Cheetahs, who play five of their remaining six matches in Bloemfontein, will surely roll over one of the fancied teams before the end of the Super 14.

The Sharks are hoping that April 11 will not be that day.

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