The Sharks host the Free State Cheetahs in what promises to be an exciting Currie Cup semi-final in Durban on Saturday.
The home side head into this clash as overwhelming favourites as they have beaten the Bloemfontein-based side in six of their last seven matches.
In the last meeting between these sides the Sharks dominated before claiming a 50-26 victory but Sharks coach Brad Macleod-Henderson believes that result, and his side’s recent dominance of this fixture will have no bearing on this weekend’s match.
“It will be a completely different game to when we last played the Cheetahs here,” Macleod-Henderson said.
“We’ve got a tough game on our hands as they’ve got a big forward pack and some strong ball-carriers.
“And then they have some exciting backs, a dangerous number nine who likes to snipe around the fringes, and a good centre pairing and very good wings.”
The home side have been boosted by the return of several Springboks including Frans Steyn, who returns straight into the run-on side after a five-month spell on the sidelines through injury.
The Sharks are a side on a mission after suffering a 17-13 defeat to Western Province in their final league match last weekend. That match – which was played in rainy conditions in Durban last weekend – cost them the top spot on the table and they will be determined to put thatperformance behind them and progress to the final.
Sharks captain Keegan Daniel admitted the Sharks were still licking their wounds after that result which means they will not host the final should they beat the Cheetahs and WP lose to the Lions in the other play-off in Cape Town.
“We ticked some boxes that we wanted to at the weekend, but when you play in those conditions, the bounce of the ball or just or one or two small things can cost you the result,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we can’t control the past, but we can put things right this weekend.
“We took positives out of the game, I thought we got on top in the collisions and that was one area where we struggled against them in Cape Town, but we were much better in that department last Saturday.”
With rain predicted for this play-off, last weekend’s experience against WP could favour the home side.
“I’m sure the Durban public aren’t too happy with the weather each weekend, but last week was a good training exercise for what conditions might be like on Saturday,” added Macleod-Henderson.
“The set-pieces will become vitally important again, and it is something we’ve focused on again this week.”
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske believes the contest will be determined by whoever wins the front row battle.
“In the scrums we expect another tough battle, as our Springbok front row will pack down against another of the Sharks. It is going to be a hard match, that is for sure,” said Drotske.
The Cheetahs have once again named Springbok fly-half Johan Goosen amongst their replacements. The 21-year-old returned to action last weekend in their final league match against the Bulls in Bloemfontein after being on the sidelines for most of the season with a knee injury.
“We have decided to again include him (Goosen) on the bench and we are managing him after a lengthy injury,” added Drotske.
“Just like Frans Steyn’s return for the Sharks, Goosen’s return is also a game of chance.”
Players to watch:
For Sharks: After coming on as a replacement, and missing two penalties – which ultimately cost his side the match – against Western Province last week, Patrick Lambie starts at fly-half this weekend. When on song, Lambie has the ability to unlock the tightest defences and he will look to do just that against a Cheetahs side whose defensive duties have let them down in several matches already this season. Lambie’s goal-kicking is another area of his game which is usually one of his strengths but after missing two crucial penalties against WP last weekend, he will keen to deliver another flawless display when kicking for goal.
For Cheetahs: Although the Cheetahs are a side who have attacking weapons throughout their ranks Robert Ebersohn is a player who has come on in leaps and bounds since moving to inside centre at the start of the year. The Montpellier-bound midfielder has blossomed as his side’s playmaker and will be determined to delay his departure from the Bloemfontein outfit by another week.
Head-to-head: It’s an old cliché but the sides that dominate the forward exchanges usually end up on the winning side. And in this clash the battle up front, particularly amongst the two front-rows will have a big impact on the result. The Sharks trio of Bismarck du Plessis, Wiehahn Herbst and Beast Mtawarira face off against the Cheetahs’ Adriaan Strauss, Coenie Oosthuizen and Trevor Nyakane. Five of these six these players are Springboks which adds spice to this duel and keep a close eye on the opening scrum as fireworks are set to go off when their collective weight collides.
2013: Sharks won 50-26, Durban
2013: Sharks won 18-15, Bloemfontein
2012: Sharks won 37-30, Bloemfontein
2012: Sharks won 34-32, Durban
2011: Sharks won 20-13, Durban (semi-final)
2011: Free State Cheetahs won 53-32, Bloemfontein
2011: Sharks won 43-34, Durban
Prediction: Although the Cheetahs will put up a brave fight they will not have enough firepower to cause an upset.
The Sharks will win easily by 10 points!
The 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 (capt), 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 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Rossouw De Klerk, 18 Teboho Mohoje, 19 Freddie Ngoza, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
Date: Saturday, October 19
Kick-off: 17:00 local (16:00 BST, 15:00 GMT)
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Cobus Wessels
Television match official: Deon van Blommestein
Assessor: Alan O’Connell
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