Sharks ready for rain

2013-10-19 00:00

THE Sharks believe their painful wet-weather rugby lesson just a week back will have a positive spin-off and help them overcome the Free State Cheetahs in this evening’s Currie Cup semi-final at King’s Park.

The Sharks were edged 17-13 by Western Province in the rain last Saturday and coach Brad Macleod-Henderson says that the experience will benefit the players in this semi-


The Sharks initially tried to play too much rugby in the dreadful conditions against Province, but lacked accuracy and trailed 14-6 at the break. They were more conservative in the second half, dominating territory but they then frittered away scoring chances (and set pieces) in the tense four-point defeat.

While the forecast suggests that rain may have gone away by this evening, conditions are expected to be slippery, turning what could have been a free-flowing contest into a forward slog with the emphasis on strong defence, tactical kicking and penalties rather than expansive rugby.

Free State coach Naka Drotské said yesterday that defence and discipline usually won knock-out games.

“We have spoken a good deal about our discipline, particularly at the breakdown. We have to be clinical and 100% sure if we attempt to turn over ball.

“Unnecessary penalties not only break your concentration, but can make the difference between winning and losing.”

And, if penalties are decisive, Drotské believes that Riaan Smit, who has been brought in on the wing and is Free State’s most accurate goal-kicker, could be the match-winner.

The Cheetahs, without the player depth of the other franchises, have been forced to field much the same band of players in both the Super Rugby and Currie Cup competitions over the past nine months. Understandably, there have been indications that they are running out of puff though a place in the Currie Cup final should prove a powerful incentive this evening.

The Cheetahs’ improvement in their defence was a feature of their excellent effort in Super Rugby and the Sharks are looking to a rejigged backline, and the power of the returning Frans Steyn at inside centre, to breach the gainline.

Steyn, who was out of condition when he returned briefly to Super Rugby at the start of the season, has now had another six months on the sidelines and his match fitness will be closely watched by Sharks supporters — and Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer — today.

The Sharks, with a variety of kickers in the left-footed SP Marais and Charl Mcleod and the right-footed Pat Lambie, Steyn and Louis Ludik, appear better equipped to play the territory game.

But, of course, the set piece will be decisive and the Sharks will certainly hope to improve on last Saturday’s shoddy performance in both the scrum and lineout.

They have lost Springbok tighthead Jannie du Plessis to injury, but, surprisingly, the set scrum was more secure after Wiehahn Herbst replaced him in the second half last week.

The Sharks have won eight of their last nine Currie Cup games against the Cheetahs and they thumped them 50-26 at King’s Park a month ago. But coach Brad Macleod-Henderson says history will count for nothing in this knock-out clash.

“This will be a completely different game. We’ve got a tough game on our hands. They have a big forward pack and we need to contain some strong ball-carriers. They also have some exciting backs, a dangerous scrumhalf [Sarel Pretorius], who likes to snipe around the fringes, a good centre pairing [Johann Sadie and Robert Ebersohn] and pace on the wings.

“We must make sure we are strong in the set piece, particularly with the wet weather, and play to our structures.”

This is almost certainly the Sharks’ final outing at King’s Park this year with Province strong favourites to beat the Golden Lions in the earlier semi-final to win the right to host the final. If the Lions somehow upset Province, and the Sharks beat the Cheetahs, the final will be played at King’s Park next Saturday, but few are holding their breath.

The Sharks have the edge in halfbacks Lambie and McLeod, they are playing at home and they should be the better prepared and more experienced team in the conditions.

But the balanced, organised Cheetahs remain a major threat and the Sharks will have to be sharper in taking their scoring chances than they were a week ago if they are to advance to their fourth successive Currie Cup final.


Sharks: 15. SP Marais, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Louis Ludik, 12. Francois Steyn, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel (captain), 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4. Peet Marais, 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Danie Mienie, 18. Stephan Lewies, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Cobus Reinach, 21. Fred Zeilinga, 22. Heimar Williams

Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen

Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Teboho Mohoje, 19 Freddy Ngoza, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Rayno Benjamin.

Referee: Marius van der West­huizen. Kick-off: 5 pm

First semi-final today: WP v Lions, Newlands, 2.30 pm.

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