Preview Sharks versus Cheetahs re-match in Bloemfontein

The build-up to the Sharks versus Cheetahs re-match in Bloemfontein this weekend has overtones for South African rugby that go way beyond the result.

If that sounds a little dramatic beyond the obvious fact that another Sharks loss would demean the Durbanites to Super Rugby purgatory in 2015, Sharks coach Gary Gold is certain that his team will escape Dante’s Inferno.

“I don’t think we have got to that stage yet,” he said of a Sharks team that is already 10 points adrift of the SA Conference leaders, the Stormers, and in 10th-place overall after four rounds of the competition.

“A handful of years ago, when the competition was smaller, I remember the Crusaders losing their first six games before fighting back to make it the playoffs, and they then won the title. So I definitely don’t think we are already a lost cause. We certainly do not see it that way.”

But overshadowing the obvious need for a win is the nudging fact that the Sharks owe it to Saru to rest a significant number of their players ahead of next week’s home match against the Chiefs, the New Zealand team that won the title in 2012 and 2013.

The acknowledged “gentleman’s agreement” between Saru and the Super Rugby franchises is that contracted Springbok players this year would play no more than five consecutive games before a rest, and would have at least three rest weeks during the course of the competition.

And that means that this Cheetahs game is the fifth consecutive game for a key quotient of Sharks players: Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Marcell Coetzee, with Bismarck du Plessis due the agreed break a week later (he did not play the opening match against the Cheetahs because of injury.)

The struggling Sharks quite obviously do not want to have to rest those players, especially their red-hot flyhalf and scrumhalf axis, for a home match against the Chiefs next week.

It is shaping up to be the classic province versus country row. The provinces agreed to the governing body’s request in the zero-pressure environment of the pre-season, but when the season is under way, and the province loses matches and is under the cosh, they change their tune. It is no longer expedient for them to rest key players. Everybody at the franchise is under pressure, and lofty pretensions to the greater good of the Springboks are quickly as exposed for what they are.

You cannot blame the provinces, only a governing body that has been unable to assert its will and establish a centralised contracting system where the top players are the property of the national body, not the provinces, and so the need of the national team always comes before that of the provinces.

The bottom line of this is that Sharks need to cash in on the last opportunity they have of being at full strength, unless they can somehow persuade Saru to change their minds on the issue. They won’t. A deal is a deal and you can’t renege on it because you are losing.

And that will mean no Lambie and Reinach et al next week, and a brand new halfback pairing of probably Lionel Cronje and Conrad Hoffman, neither of whom have had any need to pull the Deep Heat out of their kit bags this season.

With respect to that pair, they have not had the game time this season to be a force as a combination against the Chiefs next week.

After losing to the Cheetahs at Kings Park in the first round, the Sharks had to be reliant on their best players in the hope of turning it round. They have not done that, and had to keep playing the likes of Lambie and Du Toit, easily their best players this year.

And the probable Saru adherence to the agreement that no contracted Bok can play five matches in a row means the Sharks simply have to beat the Cheetahs tomorrow, while they have their best players available. Because next week a third of the starting line-up will be ripped out if the Sharks are to honour their commitment to World Cup success.

Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Oupa Mohoje, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Mienie.

Subs: 16 BG Uys, 17 Stephan Coetzee, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Heinrich Brüssow, 20 Steven Sykes, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Clayton Blommetjies.

Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick/Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Marco Wentzel/Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Andre Esterhuizen, 23 Jack Wilson.

By Mike Greenaway

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About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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