The other way to skin a cat

2011-06-11 00:00

THE Sharks are looking for the other way to skin a cat at Ellis Park this afternoon when they take on the Lions in their Super Rugby derby.

Injuries, the rotation of players and suspension have robbed the Sharks of their most effective and beefy ball-carriers, and they are relying on a lighter, faster but less physical pack of forwards to carry them to victory and a possible play-off spot.

There was little that coach John Plumtree could have done to boost the backrow when a shoulder injury to Willem Alberts followed the suspension of Jean Deysel.

But it is surprising that in the absence of his two most imposing flanks and injured tighthead Jannie du Plessis he has rested Bismarck du Plessis, his enforcer and one of his principal ball carriers, for this afternoon’s game.

Sharks old boy Butch James, at flyhalf for the Lions today, said he is “delighted that the big boys” will not be running down his channel. “But flanks Keegan Daniel and Jacques Botes do box well above their weight,” he added.

There is no doubt that James’s selection will add resolve and organisation to the Lions’ backline defence. “Butch is an excellent team man and a calm decision-maker,” coach John Mitchell said this week. “He certainly helps those players around him.”

James said he is happy to be back at flyhalf after playing at inside centre on the Lions’ tour Down Under.

“I’m really looking forward to playing against my old mates in the Sharks side. We also owe the Ellis Park crowd at least one home win this season. The Lions are a young and excited bunch and they just want to play.”

James and Pat Lambie, his successor as Sharks flyhalf, have both been named in the preliminary Springbok squad and the contrast in their playing styles will provide an intriguing sideshow today.

A number of other Sharks, including Daniel, Ryan Kankowski, Charl Mcleod and Adi Jacobs, all chopped from the Bok squad, will also want to prove that they are still World Cup contenders.

Plumtree said the rejuvenated Lions, with a bye next weekend and playing their final game today, would pose a major threat.

“Their two tour victories have boosted their confidence and they are more dangerous. Leaving South Africa and getting away from all their critics helped them and now Butch has come in and helped add rhythm to the backline.”

Mitchell said his team had been “soft” in losing 27-3 to the Sharks in the first-round game in Durban in April.

“The Sharks will be blunt and direct and I hope we have learnt from that defeat in Durban,” he said.

There has also been a change in the Sharks as the season has unfolded, and they have struggled to produce the quick ball and high-tempo rugby that won them the Currie Cup last season. Plumtree is talking a more conservative game and playing in the right areas of the field. The battle of the breakdown and Lambie’s tactical kicking game will be decisive today.

With seven teams vying for the top six positions over the last two rounds the competition is still wide open. Indeed, a dramatic reversal of form could even see Plumtree’s team at the top of the South African conference. This would involve the Stormers losing to the Bulls today and to the Cheetahs in Bloem next Saturday, while the Sharks would have to beat the Lions today and the Bulls next Saturday.

The more realistic Sharks supporters will be hoping for an Ellis Park win today followed by a Stormers triumph at Newlands to seal their play-off spot. If the Bulls keep rolling on, then the Sharks face the most daunting of prospects next Saturday — having to win at Loftus to advance to the play-offs.

With the Sharks relying on pace rather than power to see them home today, they will also be hoping their overseas tour will have knocked some of the stuffing from the Lions.

Certainly the Sharks, patchy in form and with a couple of their most influential players missing, need all the help they can get, first at Ellis Park and then Newlands, to reach the play-offs.



Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Stefan Terblanche , 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Keegan Daniel, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Gerhard Mostert, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Eugene van Staden, 2. John Smit (c), 1. Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Alistair Hargreaves, 19. Marcell Coetzee, 20. Frederic Michalak, 21. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22. Adrian Jacobs

Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Dylan Des Fountain, 13 Doppies la Grange (c), 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Deon van Rensburg, 10 Butch James, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar/Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe/David de Villiers, 4 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.

Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 David de Villiers/David Bulbring, 19 Warren Whiteley, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Michael Killian.

Referee: Marius Jonker (RSA). Kick-off: 4.05 pm (SS1).

TODAY’S FIXTURES (home team first)

Crusaders v Blues 9.35 am; Waratahs v Highlanders 11.40 am; Force v Reds 2.05 pm; Lions v Sharks 4.05 pm; Stormers v Bulls 6.10 pm; Bye: Cheetahs.

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