Sharks set their sights on back-to-back Currie Cup title victory

2011-10-19 00:00

THE Sharks have set their sights on becoming the first team in 15 years to win back-to-back Currie Cup titles, coach John Plumtree said yesterday.

The Sharks, second on the log, take on third-placed Free State Cheetahs at King’s Park in the semi-finals on Saturday with the log-leading Golden Lions at home to Western Province, who finished fourth.

The Sharks, boosted by all seven of their Rugby World Cup Springboks, are hoping a win over the Cheetahs, followed by a Western Province victory at Ellis Park, will provide the King’s Park crowd with a repeat of last year’s final on October 29.

The Sharks suffered an embarrassing 53-32 loss to Free State in Bloemfontein when the teams met in the pool stages in Bloemfontein last month, but Plumtree said that was not relevant.

“That’s all in the past. We’re looking forward to this challenge and we know exactly what we need to do.

“We have an opportunity to contest the final again. We have a proud history in this competition over the last four years [the Sharks took the title in 2008 and 2010] and we want to be the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Natal side of 1995-96. We know we can, if we play well enough, and the players are very excited about the opportunity. But we need to keep our focus.”

Plumtree said the World Cup disappointment would still be on the minds of his Springboks.

“It will be until Sunday when it becomes part of history. But I’m sure the boys playing for the Sharks are firmly focused on what they need to do for us and they’ll see past that disappointment.”

The Sharks coach said all seven RWC Boks would be available for Saturday with loosehead Beast Mtawarira available after being the only one to miss the Lions game.

He said the knockout stage of the Currie Cup gave the players a competitive edge. “I’m sure Free State are feeling the same. It’s been a long campaign, a long year actually, but we now see an opportunity. This is a home game for us, but we need to play really well to beat this Cheetahs side and the players understand that.

“There is a history between these two teams, but it’s really exciting and we’re enjoying this week.”

The Sharks conceded five tries in losing to the Free Staters in Bloemfontein last month, but it was a rare off day for their defence.

“The Free State have scored the most tries in the competition (58) but we have conceded the least (29 in 14 games),” said Plumtree.

“We back our defence. They scored a few against us in Bloem and we understand that they are very excited about their attack.

“Our focus will not only be on defence. We want to attack well. We want our setpiece to function and we want our kicking game to function, We have to perform well in all areas to get through to the Currie Cup final.”

Charl McLeod, Louis Ludik and Meyer Bosman have been ruled out for the season by injury, but Plumtree said he was hoping to have his other walking wounded back for Saturday.

“Adi Jacobs ran nicely at training after a hamstring strain last week and Lwazi Mvovo [hamstring] also looked good at training. Jean Deysel [groin strain] hasn’t trained this week, but we’re hoping to see him on Thursday [tomorrow].”

The Sharks coach said Springbok lock Alistair Hargreaves, who has been nursing a back strain, ran on Monday “and by Thursday we should have a full squad to pick from”.

He said he had been particularly impressed by the form shown by rangy Bok number eight Ryan Kankowski against the Lions.

“It was good to see Ryan coming into form. He had a really good conditioning period after he broke his thumb and in that form he’s an unbelievable player. He put a lot of onus on himself to come back and have a big game. If he can maintain that kind of form through the remainder of the tournament, it will be great for us.”

It was announced yesterday Marius Jonker, who handled the Sharks’ last game against Free State, will referee Saturday’s semi-final (2.30 pm). The scrums, a series of re-sets and penalties, were a shambles in Bloemfontein and the Sharks will be hoping that their Bok front-row provides a solid platform and one which wins the approval of Jonker.

Jaco Peyper will referee the Ellis Park semi-final (5 pm).

Junior semi-final fixtures this weekend:

U21 - Blue Bulls vs Golden Lions in Pretoria; WP vs Sharks in Cape Town.

U19 Blue Bulls vs Free State in Pretoria; Golden Lions vs WP U19 in Johannesburg.

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