The Sharks and the Cheetahs have dished up some thrilling entertainment over the years of Super Rugby and tonight’s clash at Kings Park has all the ingredients for another classic.
It is worth noting that six of the last nine meetings between these sides have been won by the away team, including each of the last two. While it is true enough that the Cheetahs are playing only for pride and the Sharks have infinitely more to gain from a win – a step closer to the play-offs – the Sharks will not forget that the Cheetahs love nothing better than upsetting the favourites.
So often the underdogs, it is part of the Cheetahs’ psyche to upset the apple cart. Many a Sharks team has had their Super Rugby or Currie Cup ambitions rudely disrupted by a plucky Cheetahs team fuelled by their determination to beat the odds.
Last week, in Bloemfontein , the Cheetahs scored a number of outstanding tries to rush into a commanding lead over the Western Force at half time …. only to cave in on defence in the second half and they were exceptionally lucky to get away with a 30-29 win after Peter Grant missed an easy penalty to win the game.
That is the Cheetahs in a nutshell. They are capable of brilliance on attack but can be woeful on defence.
“It makes them a difficult team to prepare for,” Sharks coach Gary Gold admitted. “We have to show them a lot of respect because they are a team that is capable of scoring tries against the best defences in the competition. They will have no lack of intent, they use the width of the field, and they have an effective passing game. Their back three has been outstanding – in fact they have a very good backline full stop.”
But the fact remains that the Cheetahs leak tries faster than they score them. It is why they are out of the running for the play-offs. The Sharks are the opposite. They have been exceptional in defence this season, apart from last week’s game against the Lions, but tries have not always been easy to come by.
“We have to just concentrate on ourselves,” Gold said. “We let ourselves down badly on defence last week at Ellis Park. We have looked at the reason for the bad defence and a lot of it was down to errors at the breakdown. We don’t want to be giving the opposition quick ball. We have worked hard on that. We have to focus on our own play, on keeping the ball through the phases and building pressure.”
Gold will be hoping for a return to form for flyhalf Garth April. The 25-year-old was put under pressure by the Lions and did not attack with the freedom he has in previous games for the Sharks. It will be a big test for April tomorrow. He needs to rebound and deliver an assured performance.
Patrick Lambie was ruled out earlier in the week with continuing symptoms of concussion but should be available for next week’s final round robin game against the Sunwolves, at Kings Park.
The Sharks will be lifted if Lambie can return against the Sunwolves, hopefully after a win against the Cheetahs, and if they beat the Japanese team as well, they will book a place in the quarter-finals ahead of the Bulls.
“Patrick has had his injury concerns in recent seasons but he is a very strong character, he has a strong mind,” Gold said. “He reminds me of Jean de Villiers in terms of his determination to get over injury. Patrick and Jean are both resilient. Jean had some terrible injuries but recovered to be a great Springbok. I have no doubt it will be the same with Patrick.”
Sharks – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira (c).
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 George Whitehead, 23 William Small-Smith.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rashivhenge (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)