Sharks enter Lions lair

2008-09-26 00:00

IT has been a case of business as usual in Durban this week, as the Sharks have gone about their preparations for today’s Currie Cup clash against the Lions at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

The Sharks have kept an eye on their execution of the basics rather than concentrating on the opposition or the consequences riding on the outcome of such a high-profile match.

Rather than making a big issue about the fixture, the Sharks have trained and prepared in workmanlike fashion, enjoying the return of many first-choice players as they find themselves at full-strength at the business end of the tournament.

Fourteen weeks into the competition, very few sides are able to name their best team — the rate of attrition increasingly testing squad depth as the tournament approaches its climax on October 25. However, for a Sharks side laden with internationals, things are looking very pleasing and it is a matter of going out and doing the business.

Leaving the hype to the fans and media, Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford admits that, “For us, we’ve just prepared this week as we would any other. We haven’t made it bigger than it already is, so it’s business as usual. We’ve prepared exactly as we do every week, the same attention to detail, and absolutely no difference to other weeks.”

The pressure most certainly is on both sides and they would be well-advised to keep the focus off the occasion and firmly concentrated on their execution on the day.

One player who can be relied upon to bring that stability and calmness to his team-mates is John Smit, who is expected to play around 20 minutes off the bench.

“It’s wonderful to have him back, we’re excited about his return and I think to be back on the field is really important for him after missing most of the Tri-Nations,” Bashford said.

Smit will play in his 140th Absa Currie Cup match should he take the field, having made his debut for the Sharks in 1997. Along with the rest of his team-mates, he has yet to taste victory in Johannesburg against the Lions — the Sharks’ last win there being in the 1996 Currie Cup final.

But records are there to be broken and Saturday marks a significant opportunity to start erasing a 12-year bogey that extends not only to away victories over the Lions, but also to Currie Cup trophies.

“I’ve been in this position a number of times and hopefully this will be a different type of feeling from the one I am used to,” Smit explains. “It’s nice to be back and hopefully we will give ourselves a real chance for a home semi and home final.”

Smit also finds himself a part of the strongest Sharks side assembled so far in the competition this season and that certainly bodes well for the next four matches should the side hope to go all the way.

“When you look at the team to play the Lions this weekend, it’s wonderfully well-balanced and there is strength in every department,” Smit concluded.

Now the Sharks simply need to transfer that strength into their performance on the Ellis Park pitch.

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