Sharks will have their work cut out for them

2008-09-23 00:00

DESPITE what may have been deemed a disappointing Absa Currie Cup match against the Valke, with captain Johann Muller admitting afterwards that “It wasn’t pretty and we played some bad rugby in stages,” the Sharks still scored seven tries en-route to a 44-19 victory that took them into a three-point lead over the Blue Bulls on the Currie Cup log.

The result should be seen in the context of a number of personnel changes in the Sharks line-up and the conditions — as well as the opposition — but they came away without any major injuries and banked five log points to maintain their status as log leaders.

The Sharks should be an entirely different prospect both in name and execution of the game plan against the Lions on Saturday at Ellis Park in Johannesburg as they look to what could be the season decider in their bid to go all the way this year.

Sharks coach John Plumtree has confirmed that a number of his frontline players will be back in action, with front-row Springboks Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira both available. Deon Carstens, with a calf injury, is still an uncertain starter. Odwa Ndungane and Stefan Terblanche are also both expected to return to the backline.

Plumtree admitted that after the mental challenge of playing the Cheetahs and Bulls on successive weekends, the Sharks perhaps weren’t on the same high against the Valke on Saturday, but he expects things to be markedly different this weekend.

“We had a big fortnight with the Bulls and Cheetahs at home, and having a game like that [the Valke] away was always going to be difficult for the boys to get up there mentally, but this weekend is totally different.”

There is also the matter of being in top position and not wanting to let that slip. “The top five sides are pushing hard for semis and final spots, or home semis, and we’ve got ourselves into a good position, which we don’t want to relinquish,” the coach added.

The third-placed Lions are six points adrift of the Sharks and a win would give their title hopes a massive boost. On the flip side, a loss could start the rot that sees them knocked out of the top four altogether if they fail to pick up any log points against the Sharks or their next week’s opposition, Western Province.

There is a huge amount riding on the outcome of this match and the Sharks are only too aware that they will have their work cut out for them. “We have a lot of respect for the Lions,” said Plumtree. “They are a good side and have done well. We have to make sure we go up there and be as accurate as possible in everything we do. Also, the intensity has got to be there because there is a lot to play for.”

He admits that both sets of forwards have proven themselves this year, and the battle upfront will be huge as each side tries to assert dominance in the setpieces and close- quarter physical exchanges.

“You will see that week in and week out for the next four weekends of matches, there are going to be some pretty big battles up front and this one won’t be any different.”

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