Sharks looking to defy history books and beat the champions

2008-07-18 00:00

THE Sharks, coach John Plumtree conceded yesterday, are down in firepower, but his players are looking forward to the opportunity of defying recent history — and the odds — in beating Currie Cup champions Free State in Bloemfontein this evening.

The Sharks are at the top of the Currie Cup log after four rounds, but disrupted by Springbok demands and now injury, are struggling to find their rhythm.

While the Sharks have consistently seen off the Cheetahs’ challenge in the Super 14, the Free Staters, largely untouched by Springbok commitments, have dominated the Currie Cup.

The Sharks have to page back to 2003 for their last Currie Cup win over the Cheetahs, who have now taken the trophy for the last three years.

The closest the Sharks have come was last year, when they won precious little set-piece possession, but still led 23-22 until injury time, when Free State flyhalf Willem de Waal kicked a penalty after the final hooter for a 25-23 win.

First-phase possession should not be the problem tonight, with Plumtree fielding three Boks (lock Johann Muller and the two props, Deon Carstens and Jannie du Plessis) in the tight five, while De Waal, who has often tormented the Sharks, has followed the Rassie Erasmus trek to Cape Town.

But it is the shortage of powerful runners that concerns Plumtree.

“We have lost a number of our ball-carriers and that is the X-factor in this game. We have also been disrupted by the injuries and the delay in announcing the team, but we have still prepared well and there is an excitement in the squad.”

The Free Staters are in no position to take the Sharks’ challenge lightly. They have lost their last two games — to the Blue Bulls (31-23) and, ironically, De Waal’s boot in Cape Town (9-3) — and they will be determined to regain the winning trail.

The Sharks have also been boosted by the return of Frederic Michalak at flyhalf and Plumtree will be looking to the Frenchman to spark the backs. But it is in the battle of the loose forwards where Free Staters Schalk van der Merwe, Hendro Scholtz and the excellent Heinrich Brüssow could hold a decisive edge over the Sharks’ Keegan Daniel, Nikolai Blignaut and Jacques Botes.

As Plumtree says, these are early days in the Currie Cup, but an away win against Free State will do wonders for the Sharks — and their supporters.

Today’s Currie Cup fixtures

Boland v Blue Bulls (Kick-off: 3pm, Live on SuperSport 1/MNet). Griquas v Lions (Kick-off: 3pm, Delayed on SuperSport 1 at 8.10pm). Free State v Sharks (Kick-off: 5.05pm,

Live on SuperSport 1 on DSTV /MNet).

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