As a player Robert du Preez was ultra-competitve, as a coach he is possibly more so, and on the eve of the Currie Cup final between the Sharks and Western Province, the 54-year-old refreshingly cut through the hype and hot air that will always accompany a major sporting event.

How are the Sharks are going to play? Have they anything special up their sleeves for a Province team that caught them off guard three weeks ago in Durban? Do the Sharks kick too much (they kicked more than any other team in three months of pool play)?

The taciturn coach mustered a wry grin before explaining how it will be for the Sharks: “Look too much is made of ball-in-hand rugby (or any particular brand). We want to play winning rugby. If that means we have to kick the ball a lot, we will do that.

“This year we have played to our strengths, which is our pack of forwards. Having said that, our backs have on many occasions done well for us with ball in hand. So we can do both, and it comes down to what the situation requires,” Du Preez said forthrightly.

In short, Du Preez does not want to have a pigeon-holed style of play.

“We want to build a way of playing that suits the Sharks and it does not happen overnight.

“We are not a New Zealand rugby team, we are a South African team, and we want to play a South African brand of rugby.”

Du Preez’s Sharks have led the Currie Cup from the front this season, evolving their way of playing, and it has come down to the same key elements. Uncompromising forward play and winning the gain line battle to provide the backs with opportunities to play what is in front of them — be that flyhalf Curwin Bosch spreading the ball or probing for territory with the boot.

And when without the ball, the Sharks have been brutal on defence.

How the Sharks play is not rocket science and if Province are to stop them at Kings Park, they know their forwards are going to have to trade blows in the frontline trenches. There will be no short cuts.

The Capetonians understand this full well from what transpired in the 80s minutes of their recent win in Durban. That match summed up the Sharks. For 30 minutes, when the Sharks were at full throttle, they steamrolled the opposition.

After the match, Province coach John Dobson admitted that he thought his side were goners given how the Sharks dominated that half an hour. But then the Sharks took their foot off the pedal. Suddenly the opposition could play, and they certainly did, spearheaded by flyhalf Robert du Preez jnr, who brilliantly made the most of the unexpected front-foot ball coming his way.

But the Sharks will not be as charitable in a final. Once bitten twice shy. They have come a long way this season to throw it away now.

That WP win was possibly the best thing that could have happened to the Sharks because it laid bare their strengths and weaknesses, and empathised the ruthlessness and efficiency that is required to be a champion team.

“Three months of hard work comes down to one game. There is nothing more we can do now,” Du Preez said philosophically. “We could not have worked harder than we have. I am incredibly proud of the players. Now it is about being calm and composed, and expressing ourselves as we have done all season.”

*** Du Preez has made one change to his squad for the final. Injured wing Sbu Nkosi is replaced by Odwa Ndungane and the latter’s place on the bench is taken by Rhyno Smith.

Sharks – 15 Garth April, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Odwa Ndungane, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit.

Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Tristan Blewett, 23 Rhyno Smith.

Curwin Bosch flyhalf for the Sharks -Pic Steve Haag

Western Province – 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (c), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.

Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Werner Kok, 23 Dan Kriel.

Kick-off: 4pm

Referee: Jaco Peyper

Assistant Referees: Egon Seconds & AJ Jacobs

TMO: Marius Jonker

BY Mike Greenaway

Sharks vs Stormers match preview for today 5.10pm kick off

This week it has been something of a mutual admiration society between the coaches of the Sharks and Stormers but nobody is under any illusion that it will be all-out war at Newlands come 5.15pm this evening.

In the best traditions of derbies between the sides, Gary Gold and Robbie Fleck have been talking up the opposition while behind closed doors the teams are preparing to rip each other’s heads off.

The bookies have the unbeaten Stormers as favourites, mostly by virtue of being at home and that their combinations are better known while a number of Sharks are still finding their feet in Super Rugby.

The bookies are probably spot on. The Stormers were emphatic in beating the Bulls at Newlands in round one and showed character to outmuscle the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein while the Sharks struggled to subdue the Kings in the first half of their round-one match but then showed admirable courage in seeing off the Jaguares in Durban last week.

“We have a lot of respect for a Stormers team that is probably a few years ahead of us in terms of progression and continuity from (outgoing coach) Alistair Coetzee to (his long-time assistant) Robbie Fleck. They are a tight unit and we will show them the respect they reserve by the urgency with which we will play. We are not just going to pitch up in Cape Town and see how it goes …!”

The Sharks are in a good place, psychologically-speaking. They know they are not world beaters just yet but have taken confidence out of their wins over Toulon, Toulouse, the Kings and the Jaguares. The Argentineans did not score a point in the second half at Kings Park because of tenacious defence from the home side.

“We are making incremental progress and recognise that what has gone before this season for us will not be good enough against the Stormers, who will pose very tough questions at a packed Newlands,” Gold said.

“Fleckie is taking their game to a new level,” Gold continued. “He has had his own influence on how he would like to see things done. He has taken the strengths built by Allistair, the set pieces and defence, and added his attacking mindset to that foundation. We hear from guys in their squad that they are very happy under Fleckie and as a South African I am ecstatic that the Stormers went that route. Fleckie is a very smart guy and certainly did his apprenticeship. He was a great Springbok player and then an assistant coach for six years. I am very happy for him and for SA rugby that he has been recognised and I think he is doing an outstanding job.”

Fleck, in turn, has heaped praise on the Sharks, in particular their vastly improved defence following last season’s pitiful effort in this regard. They conceded a whopping 43 tries, and in the off-season recruited defence guru Omar Mouneimne.

“We know Omar from the time he spent coaching at the Stormers between 2008 and 2010, he’s a very good defence coach and you can see a big difference in the Sharks’ defensive system,” Fleck said.

“The Sharks are looking good, and appear to be a well-rounded side. There are some clear changes from last season, they’re very organised defensively and have a well-balanced kicking game, with good kickers in Joe Pietersen and Willie le Roux. But I also think they’re looking to keep the ball in hand a bit more. We’re actually two quite similar teams.”

Pietersen has been a steady influence at 10 in taking over from injured Patrick Lambie and his experience has been preferred to the flair of youngster Garth April. Fleck knows Pietersen inside out having coached him when he was the Stormers’ fullback for a number of seasons.

“Joe’s a really good rugby player, and when he has time on the ball he can be very dangerous. He generally makes good decisions, so we can’t just let him have it all his own way, we have to put him under a bit of pressure. He’s a point-scoring machine, and he’s got a nice flow into the Sharks’ attack and he’s running things smoothly. I like the way the Sharks are playing, they’ve got some big strong backs and a mobile pack.”

So it is pats on the back all round from the respective coaches but the phoney war is just about at and end and this evening’s game will not be for the faint at heart.

Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)

Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (co-captain), 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe (co-captain), 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.

Substitutes: Scarra Ntubeni, Oli Kebble, Vincent Koch, JD Schickerling, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Nic Groom, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Huw Jones.

Sharks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira (capt).

Substitutes: Kyle Cooper, Juan Schoeman, Lourens Adriaanse, Hyron Andrews, Philip van der Walt, Michael Claassens, Garth April, S’bura Sithole.

By Mike Greenaway


Sharks with twins Daniel and Jean-Luc,test are at Newlands this Saturday

The Du Preez twins, Daniel and Jean-Luc, have been picking up Man of the Match awards with eyebrow-raising regularity this season ( including the pre-season tour to France) thus precluding their no doubt proud Dad from being involved in selection issues just yet in his portfolio as Sharks attack coach.

But Robert du Preez senior knows that there can be no such thing as family ties when it comes to selection issues that will inevitably crop up down the line. Du Preez, a Springbok that first started out at Western Transvaal in the Currie Cup B section way back in 1982 and – via a distinguished period at the Bulls partnering Naas Botha in the heyday of both players – finished an impressive career at Natal in 1998.

Du Preez subsequently went into the business world and was a major achiever in marketing Mr Price, who for some time were the anchor sponsors of the Sharks.

“It is a professional environment and I have to behave accordingly, and so do my sons,” Du Preez said. “I had good advice from Ian McIntosh (who was coach of the Sharks when his son, Craig, played a few games for the province). You have to make rugby decisions and make sure you don’t go out of your way to be tough on your kids (while obviously not favouring them). You must see it as business as usual.”

This week Du Preez has been spared a confrontation between his twin sons, who are currently featuring in the Sharks’ loose trio, and their elder brother Robert, who would have started at Newlands on Saturday against the Sharks had he not been injured against the Cheetahs last week. The 22-year-old Robert Jnr (the twins are 20) has a potentially serious knee ligament injury.

It is going to be a massive test for a Sharks team that has thus far beaten second-string French sides in Toulon and Toulouse, thumped the hapless Kings and then ground out a character-building win over a very tough Jaguares team in Durban at the weekend.

The Stormers away will ask a new set of questions of a Sharks side that is rich in potential but, by Du Preez’s admission, still has searching examinations ahead of them.

“The Stormers are going to be very difficult in Cape Town,” he said. “They are similar to us in how they want to play. Already their forward pack is commanding a lot of respect and we are under no illusion as to the challenge in front of us but we are a confident bunch and we will give it our best shot.”

The Stormers are indeed without Robert Jnr at flyhalf but they have one of the best second-row pairings in the world in the former Shark Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth, the Man of the Match in his team’s win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

“We are a work in progress but we like to think we are getting better as the season progresses and it has definitely boosted our morale to have won four out of four,” Du Preez said. “The confidence in how we want to play is growing. We won’t hold back on Saturday.”

Du Preez reckons the Sharks have the ideal balance this year between youth and experience.

“Gary Gold and the management are creating something special and there is a nice spirit in the camp,” Du Preez said. “This last week against the Jaguares was obviously very difficult with ball in hand because it was very slippery, which is what you get in Durban at this time of the year. Our intent was there but we coughed up too many balls. We created a number of opportunities but should have converted more and that has got to improve if we are to beat the Stormers.”

by Mike Greenaway

Bismarck du Plessis’s final Sharks interview

There was no masking the emotion on Bismarck du Plessis’s face as he gave possibly his last ever interview in Sharks colours ahead of his Sharks career finale against the Stormers at Kings Park on Saturday. Just how much the Sharks mean to him was etched into every contour of his battle-scarred features.

“I read a scripture recently, which said ‘teach me to number my days’, and so yes, it’s a very emotional week,” the 31-year-old said. “But It’s hopefully not my last time that I’ll be playing here … you never know … but for me it’s been a great journey. I arrived here when I was the seventh best hooker in the Free State, when I got the opportunity from CEO Brian van Zyl van Zyl and coach Kevin Putt. I’m very grateful to them for sticking their heads out and giving me that opportunity.”

Ten years on he and his brother Jannie are having to prise themselves away from a city and a franchise that has become synonymous with the battling boets from Bethlehem
“Some of the most special memories have been just just to wake up every day in Durban, open the curtains and see the beautiful ocean. And also just to experience the amazing culture we have at the Sharks, it’s been the most special thing in my life to be able to wake up and play for the Sharks,” he said.
“But I don’t want any accolades, from anyone, that is not why I play the game,” the hooker said. “I would have been happy to play 20 games for Bethlehem dorp at the time, and I never thought I’d have this privilege to play for the Sharks.”

He says the Sharks have been his dream team for as long as he can remember.

“On holiday here as a five, six-year-old boy, I remember Jannie and I walking along Windermere Road to go watch the Club Champs, and watching great players like Springbok legend Danie Gerber and Domkrag (Springbok prop Frans Erasmus), Pote Human and all those great players who dominated the club scene at the time. I remember sitting at the top of the stands and wondering if I’d ever have the opportunity to play rugby. As I say, I don’t play for any accolades, I just play for my teammates and the respect I have for the guys who play with me.”
Two players have been especially instrumental in Bismarck’s evolvement into the best hooker in the world going into the September Rugby World Cup.

“When I arrived at the Sharks, John Smit was absolutely influential in everything I did. The other guy who gave me the best of everything and was like a father to me, was Johan Ackermann, the current Lions coach and former Sharks and Springbok lock – just the way he conducted himself on and off the field even with the ups and downs he went through.”
But, as he says, now his days in Durban are numbered, with French club Montpellier rumoured to be the recipients of some of the hottest property in the game.

“For me, it was always about backing the process and knowing where I stood, and that’s what’s sad about this chapter of my life. But like I said, John has always been great to me. When he was a player the way he helped me to develop my skills, he allowed me to become better than I was when I arrived here.
“For me it’s a very sad day to be leaving the Sharks, I guess I never thought this day would arrive. I’m a Sharks boy through and through, I love the Sharks with all my heart and I don’t want to play for any other side in the world.”

There have been Currie Cup title wins and Super Rugby finals, but once more Du Plessis insists that it is not about the trophies.

“In almost every year I’ve been here we’ve been involved in play-off matches, but I’m just happy with the group of players that I have been able to play with. A lot of people might measure themselves on the amount of trophies they’ve won, but I measure myself on the type of person I am as I leave here. I’m a much happier person. I remember writing my last exams, and packing up all by myself in my varsity room, stuffing it all into this little Volkswagen beetle I had and driving about 12 hours from Bloemfontein to Durban in a car that could only go about 80kmh and I had to fill up about six times because it only had a small petrol tank. So as I leave, and if I come back, I think I do so as a better person.”
Naturally it has been all the better to have his brother for most of the journey.

“You know how special it is or us, it was always the plan for Jannie and I to play rugby together,” Bismarck says. “I thought even if we could have just played together for Bethlehem dorp that would have been okay, so to play here at the Sharks with him has been so special. Other players have been like brothers to me too.The Beast, Jannie and I must have played 150 games together; JP Pietersen – who got married over the weekend – I can’t remember a game that I didn’t play with him. Then there’s Odwa Ndungane, and Ryan Kankowski, who has been my roommate from 2005. We went through a lot together, it’s really special and that’s why we’re such a close-knit group. We’re all like brothers.”
Du Plessis will leave the Kings Park pitch with tears in his eyes on Saturday night, no question about it.

“I’m the biggest Sharks fan and always will be, it’s about being the best and staying at the top of your game. It’s always about those succession plans when somebody leaves, and when someone comes in wondering if he will he able to do the job. But I think the Sharks are in a great space, at the beginning we didn’t even have a gym, and I don’t think there is any better culture or place to play rugby.

“For me, I am a passionate passionate Shark, I don’t know where I will be heading exactly. I’m a very principle-based guy and I won’t go anywhere else (in South Africa). If ever I get the opportunity again to come back, and the coaching staff think I can add value I will most likely take them up on that offer. I will miss this place with everything I have.”

by Mike Greenaway


Sharks players that are suspended from rugby because of foul play will now be docked their wages.

This was the no-nonsense resolution passed at a meeting of the Board of the Sharks Directors at Kings Park yesterday.

The notorious disciplinary record of the Sharks in Super Rugby this year – three red cards and three yellows – was high on the agenda and the Board has shown firm leadership in clamping down on the issue by warning the players that they will be hit where it hurts most if they irresponsibly transgress – in their pockets.

Chairman of the Board Stephen Saad told The Mercury that the Board agree fully with the public that the reckless behaviour of some of the players is intolerable. Saad went further and said that the suspensions given to the players by organising body SANZAR is not enough.

“We have decided that going forward there must be a policy of ‘no pay for no play’ should a player be suspended for foul play,” said Saad, who is one of the country’s leading captains of industry with his pharmaceutical company, Aspen.

Saad said this would be a prerequisite in future player contracts at the Sharks and that the current players would be “asked” to have the clause accepted into their contracts.

“The Sharks Board agree that red cards and dirty play cannot be condoned and it is unacceptable that this behaviour be associated with the Sharks brand,” Saad said. “We endorse the executive management’s suggestion that the current censure (suspension from playing) is inadequate and can confirm that further sanction on the players has been taken over and above that served from SANZAR.

“To this end we consulted legal counsel with regarding ‘no play-no pay’ for red cards,” he continued. “We feel this new censure is appropriate and will have the necessary teeth.”

The Sharks have lost senior players in Bismarck du Plessis (four weeks for a kick to the head), Frans Steyn (five weeks for a tip tackle) and Jean Deysel (seven weeks for a knee to the head) plus have had three other sinbinned.’

Jean Deysel sent off during the Crusaders game in Durban on Easter Saturday

As it stands, the suspended players are on full pay. It is known that senior Springbok can earn up to R500 000 a month from provincial and national contracts, a fortune however you look at it but particularly if he is idle at home because of a reckless act on the field.

It is not going to happen again at the Sharks.

The three afore-mentioned players are part of the seven-man player leadership group and all have captained the team, and with another member of the group, Patrick Lambie, injured for six weeks, the impact of the suspensions has surely been keenly felt by the squad and the coaching staff, who count on the support of the leadership group.

But it was not all doom and gloom at the meeting. Saad said the good news was that there has been a financial recovery over the last year or so under CEO John Smit.

“At the KZNRU AGM the consolidated accounts showed a financial turnaround of nearly R22 million in a single year,” he said. “The largest part of this turnaround can be attributed to the Sharks’ financial improvements. John has not only managed his expenses well and implemented the needed governance but has been instrumental in driving the sponsorship revenue.

“This was sorely needed to underpin the investment we need to make in our squad to help impact the future strength of Sharks rugby.”

The Sharks face a must-win game against the Bulls at Kings Park on Saturday. They have slipped to ninth on the overall standings and have lost their last two games.

“On the rugby front the Board recognises that we are not where we would like to be but need to acknowledge that John and his team in less than two years have won a Currie Cup, been in a Currie Cup semi-final with a very young squad and topped the SA Conference in Super Rugby last year for the first time.”

by Mike Greenaway

Super Rugby Preview -Sharks in must win game against the Lions on Saturday

We are 20 years into Super Rugby, and there have been detractors that have said the competition has run its course, but how can you give a death sentence to a competition that after just one round has a premier team in the Sharks fighting for their lives?

For those who think this a melodramatic statement, consider the following: it is a given that teams hoping for a shot at the title first and foremost have to win their home games. The Sharks have lost their first home game, a fixture every rugby pundit in the Southern Hemisphere, outside of The Volksblad newspaper in Bloemfontein, said they would win.

And tomorrow they host a Lions team that for a few years now under the ultimate rugby rabble rouser, Johan Ackermann, a living legend that was still bossing the Bok scrum at the age of 37, have been threatening to restore the red and white to the glory days of the ‘90s when, funnily enough, they were the chief rivals to the Sharks.

The Lions lost last week to the Hurricanes in a match they totally dominated in Johannesburg, but they could not put the ball between the uprights while the bemused Wellingtonians scored tries on rare forays into the Lions half, and won a game they had no right to.

So the Lions are miffed. So too are the Sharks, whose game against the Cheetahs was glaringly similar to the Lions’ game.

So we have two annoyed teams determined to right the wrongs of last weekend. The difference is that there is way more pressure on the Sharks, the home team.

Let’s look at it like this. The Sharks have already broken the cardinal rule of losing at home. And if they lose at home to the Lions, what chance have they got of winning their next three fixtures – away to the Bulls at Loftus, then the Stormers in Cape Town, followed by the a return joust with the Cheetahs in Bloem?.

We are saying that if the Sharks lose tomorrow, they could well end up 0-5 down after five weeks of the competition, stone last, and fighting a rearguard battle for the rest of the tournament.

So is this a must-win game for the Sharks? You bet your life it is, because a second successive home defeat will rob them of confidence and momentum going into three away derbies against South African teams.

The stakes could not be higher for the Sharks. Lose and face the possibility of going five-zip down or win, enhance belief in the game plan, and stand a chance of winning some of those three away games before a homecoming match against the Chiefs, the recent two-time champions who will hardly be push-overs, the home ground advantage of Kings Park notwithstanding.

Gary Gold, the Director of Coaching who is only into his second week in charge after the pre-season had been under the tutelage of Brendan Venter, has had to make several injury-enforced changes to his team. Lock Mouritz Botha is out with an eye injury and is replaced by the exiting Pumas lock Giant Mtyanda. He is an exceptional talent and is indeed a beast, speaking of which, Tendai Mtawarira is sidelined with a calf injury, and that is okay given the excellent form Dale Chadwick showed when he came on as substitute at loosehead prop, and is rewarded with a start in the position.

On the right wing, there is a welcome return for veteran Odwa Ndungane because of an injury to S’Bura Sithole. The loss of the latter is a blow, and when he is fit it is hoped that his dynamicism will find its way back into the midfield, where he can be a potent threat at outside centre.

At hooker, captain Bismarck du Plessis is restored after missing the opening match with a shoulder complaint. The TV cameras that trained on him last week showed a man in patent torment.

“You saw a Sharks man suffering serious disappointment,” Du Plessis said. “I just knew that we were a much better side than that. We let ourselves down in a lot of areas of the field, especially when it came to exiting out of our own half. We had the right idea of how we want to play, but were not doing it in the right areas of the field.”

Du Plessis will be on pitch tomorrow night to direct affairs. Sharks fans will be desperate for him to expertly conduct the home orchestra. Because if he gets it wrong, and the Sharks lose two home games in a row, they almost certainly will go five games down, and it will be a forlorn battle from then on.

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (capt), 1 Dale Chadwick.

Subs: Kyle Cooper, Thomas du Toit, Matt Stevens, Marco Wentzel, Jean Deysel, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga, André Esterhuizen.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (capt), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1. Jacques van Rooyen.

Subs: Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe, Julian Redelinghuys, JP du Preez, Ruaan Lerm, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Harold Vorster.

by Mike Greenaway

Sharks vs Cheetahs match Preview for Saturday 14 February 2015

Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis has never been drawn to hyperbole so when he declares that his team is ready for war, the Super Rugby opposition had best draw up their shields and raise their swords for an onslaught, starting with the Cheetahs at Kings Park tomorrow (5pm).

The battling Bok hooker reckons the Sharks will bring something significantly different to their challenge this year, thanks to a pre-season that was focussed on overwhelming the opposition through greater urgency in every department of the game.

“There are 15 captains across Super Rugby who will be telling you how well prepared they are, and that might well be the case, so all I can tell you is that the Sharks are going to bring a greater intensity to their game than ever before,” Du Plessis said. “That is what is going to be different about the Sharks this year – we will have a higher work rate than ever before and will bring a new intensity to our play. We are going to give this campaign our very best shot. We are ready.”

This year’s competition is unique in that it has the backdrop of the ever encroaching Rugby World Cup in September, and Du Plessis reckons the country’s five franchises must rally to the national cause.

“The last time South Africa won the World Cup, there were two of our teams in the Super 14 final (in 2007, when the Bulls edged out the Sharks in Durban),” the Sharks captain said. “I think Super Rugby form is a pointer to the World Cup, but the ironic proviso is that the our players must not have an eye on the World Cup – we have to concentrate on doing our best with what is in front of us week by week, and then the World Cup will take care of itself.”

Du Plessis skippers a Sharks team that has just about picked itself in the absence of Japan-based players in centre Frans Steyn, wing JP Pietersen and No 8 Ryan Kankowski, plus injured loose forward Willem Alberts. The return of Steyn after the end of the Japanese knock-out Cup will be a key boost to the one vulnerable area in the Sharks team – the midfield made up of comeback kid Waylon Murray and youngster Heimar Williams. It should be kept in mind that coach Gary Gold has centre Paul Jordaan not far off a comeback from a serious knee injury and SA Under 20 star Andre Esterhuizen in reserve.

Otherwise it is will be hard for the Cheetahs coaching staff to pinpoint a weakness in a team that has a world class halfback pairing in Patrick Lambie and Cobus Reinach and a Test standard tight five in the front row of the Du Plessis brothers and Tendai Mtawarira, and a second row of the ravenously hungry Pieter Steph du Toit (he missed 2014 through a knee injury) and former England international Mouritz Botha.
The loose trio is not half bad either, comprising last year’s Currie Cup captain, Tera Mtembu, newly recruited Pumas flank Renaldo Bothma and the world class openside Marcell Coetzee.

The Sharks enjoyed a pre-season that was a revelation for the manner in which technical director Brendan Venter, under the guidance of Japan-based Gold, focussed on madly intense sessions that included the ball at all times, and allowed the players much of the day off to recover, which is a big departure from the regimented “12-hour days at the coal face” under Jake White.

The Sharks players are in the starting blocks to start a new era under Gold, but against the Cheetahs tomorrow, how will they balance out their much-publicised ambition to play an attacking game with the practicalities of playing rugby in Durban in sticky February?

“That is a very good question,” said Gold himself. “That’s the difficulty of wanting to play a certain brand of rugby in the humidity of the East Coast summer. It is fact that we have put a marker down in the sand and said we want to play an exciting, attacking brand of rugby in 2015. We believe we need to score more tries regularly to progress further in the play-offs.

“But it comes down to decision-making in the right areas of the field and when opportunities present themselves,” Gold said. “It’s not necessarily about the number of plays you execute because you can have advanced nowhere after 50 phases. For us, it is going to be about massive intensity in the first four or so phases of play, because that is when statistics show that 75 percent of tries are scored.”

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 S’bura Sithole, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (capt), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Substitutes: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Matt Stevens, Marco Wentzel, Jean Deysel, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga, Odwa Ndungane.

Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Clayton Blommetjies, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Petersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Jean Cook, 5 Francois Uys (capt), 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Minnie.

Substitutes: Stephan Coetzee, BG Uys, Maks van Dyk, Carl Wegner, Boom Prinsloo, Tian Meyer, Willie du Plessis, Cornal Hendricks.

BY Mike Greenaway

Sharks Captain Keegan Daniel and that scurrilous report

The writer has been covering Sharks and Springbok rugby for 17 years and in that time I have seldom encountered one of my journalistic colleagues getting it as grieviously wrong as the Beeld man who effectively labelled Keegan Daniel a fascist and a zenophobe.

The inference in the scurrilous report was that Daniel dislikes Afrikaans-speaking people and as leader of the Sharks wants fewer of them in the Sharks squad.

It is a remarkable accusation to make considering Daniel is the captain of the Sharks because he is both popular and a populist. His coach, John Plumtree, knows this because before he last year settled on a successor to John Smit (at Super Rugby level) and Stefan Terblanche (Currie Cup) he consulted with the senior players at the Sharks, almost all of whom were Afrikaans-speaking, as to who they wanted as captain.

Bismarck du Plessis, as Afrikaans as they come, was another leading contender but the senior leadership group to a man chose Daniel, making it an easy choice for Plumtree in the end.

No wonder the coach was furious when Daniel was accused of being fed-up with the Afrikaner majority in the squad.

I am fortunate to be covering the Sharks’ current tour and have seldom seen a group more content with each other’s company. They are hugely disappointed with the results, make no mistake, but they are not turning on each other.

And while they understand that the old chestnut of “divisions in the camp” inevitably crops up in the media when a team is on a losing streak, they don’t have to like it, and if anything they are becoming a more closely knit group as a result of the unsubstantiated rumours.

The fact of the matter regarding the demographics of the Sharks is that the team has been turning incrementally Afrikaans just about since Ian McIntosh recruited Vleis Visagie from the Free State in the late ‘80s.

Until now, nobody has noticed or cared, thankfully, because why would it matter? Right now, if you really want to know, the 26-man touring squad consists of three Zulus, two Xhosas, three English-speaking whites and … 18 Afrikaners.

There was a similar demographic this time last year when the Sharks made the Super Rugby final and the Currie Cup final. It did not matter then, so why should it matter now, just because the team is losing?!

The bottom line is the unifying force of the Sharks jersey and the common good of the team. This is something that the current coach, John Plumtree, feels strongly about. The New Zealander has coached and won titles and made many a final with Swansea (Wales), Wellington (in his native country) and the Sharks after having had a long career as a player in New Zealand and South Africa (with Natal).

He has been around the block a few times and has learned that what matters is the jersey and its history, the legacy left by those that have gone before and, if a player is not committed to the traditions, he will be gone under Plum, whether he is pink, blue or speaks Japanese. That is how it should be, obviously.

The values that Plumtree holds dear are the values he recognised in Daniel when he settled on making him captain.

As Daniel himself told me not long after he was appointed captain: ““How I live my life and carry myself in the public eye, and treat other people, is very important to me. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today if did not have a spiritual grounding.”

“For me captaincy is as much about winning rugby games as it is about developing people and, in fact, the more you invest in the well-being of the players, the more games you are going to win. In a squad you have a cross-section of guys, all of whom go through ups and downs on and off the field. I just feel that if there is contentment, then you will get more out of a player.

“If you are performance driven and are just worried about a number at the end of the day, you will be successful in the short term, but if you are people driven, and show a genuine interest in their welfare ahead of the result, they will want to produce the result and you have a better chance of getting it.”

Heartfelt words, indeed, and the players I have spoken to this week have testified that this is how Daniel conducts himself.

An Afrikaans-hater? It just does not add up …

By Mike Greenaway

A tough one to call between the Stormers and the Sharks at Newlands today .

A tough one to call. That is the general prognosis on the return Super Rugby match between the Stormers and the Sharks at Newlands today .

The problem with this fixture is that both sides have an injury toll edging into double figures and so it is difficult to evaluate just how good each team is, because they are not at full strength.
The key to this match lies with the cerebral and mental rather than the physical. The Stormers will feel that they HAVE to win this match while the Sharks are not as desperate and would certainly like the points but do not have a gun to their heads.

That is the challenge for the Sharks tomorrow … can they match the hunger of the Stormers? The Stormers have lost four of their six matches to date and their last two, which were big games against the Crusaders and Cheetahs and both were lost by the narrowest of margins. They are at home and next week have a bye before heading off on tour. They can afford to throw the kitchen sink at this one and as far as making the top six (and the play-offs) is concerned they are pretty much in the Last Chance Saloon.

Do the Sharks need the win as much? If you look at the overall log the answer is no, but that is not what the coaching staff will be telling the players. The Sharks are top of the SA Conference and third overall, are playing an away match and still have a home match next week (against the Cheetahs) before they go on tour.

They could afford to drop this one, beat the Cheetahs and then see how many points they could harvest in four matches overseas.

Of course, coach John Plumtree sees it very differently. His viewpoint is that the Sharks have two matches in South Africa before they tour and they have to bank as many log points as possible before away matches to the Chiefs, Highlanders, Reds and Force. And with the Cheetahs on a roll and the Stormers desperate, there are no “gimmees” for the Sharks before they fly out a week on Sunday.

Again, it comes down to whether the Sharks can match the mental space that the Stormers will be in. It is hard to predict how well the Stormers will play with 13 players out, including two first choice flyhalves in Elton Jantjies and Peter Grant, but it is certain that they will try and move heaven and earth to get the victory.

This week, Plumtree acknowledged that this is precisely what the game will come down to.

“We have a good team with some good leaders, and so have the Stormers, so it’s about the side that puts it all together on the day, maybe takes their opportunities or defends better, or manages to get their set piece to operate better. It will be all about attitude, the team that has 15 players pulling 100 percent in the right direction.”

The Sharks are yet to put in a complete performance this year. They have been good for 40-minute periods in various games but have not played well in both the first and second halves of any game, apart from the rout of the Rebels at Kings Park. It has been one half or the other.

“I’m happy in some areas that we are building towards that 80-minute performance, and we’re working hard on the rest,” Plumtree said. “We’ve shown bits and pieces on attack but we haven’t shown enough. Defensively we’ve been pretty good at times and our set-piece is operating well. We’re winning close games and only lost one game despite heaps of injury problems. We’re battling away. That’s what I want this team to keep doing. When times are tough it’s all about digging deep and working hard for each other, and that is what is going to be required if we are to have a good chance of beating the Stormers.”

Stormers: Joe Pietersen, Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (captain), Gio Aplon, Gary van Aswegen, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Michael Rhodes, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Frans Malherbe, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff.

Replacements: Martin Bezuidenhout, Pat Cilliers, Gerbrandt Grobler, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Kurt Coleman, Cheslin Kolbe.

The Sharks: Frans Steyn, Sean Robinson, Paul Jordaan, Meyer Bosman, JP Pietersen, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Keegan Daniel (captain), Ryan Kankowski, Marcell Coetzee, Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis, Kyle Cooper, Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst, Anton Bresler, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Riaan Viljoen, Odwa Ndungane.

Referee: Craig Joubert

by Mike Greenaway

Sharks to up their physicality tonight against the Crusaders

The word from the Sharks this week is that they are going to have to up their physicality tonight against the Crusaders and the retort from the New Zealanders is that they will give as good as they get.

Yesterday, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder told The Mercury that the need to win the physical battle had likewise been highlighted in the Crusaders camp.

“It always is when we are in South Africa,” the genial former All Blacks captain said. “When you play teams like the Stormers and the Sharks you know what is in store for you and if you don’t pitch up for the physical battle you can come badly second.

“It is the nature of the way the South African teams play. They are confrontational and you have to match them.”

The Crusaders have been doing that for the last three weeks. After an indifferent opening start to the season they clicked into form to beat the Bulls 41-19, then the Southern Kings 55-20 before outlasting the Stormers 19-14 last week.

Blackadder, one of the true gentleman of the game, said his team were thrilled to have the opportunity of taking maximum points from their South African tour by beating the Sharks.

History is certainly on their side. The Sharks have a disappointing record against the Crusaders, having won just twice in 16 encounters. But that statistic will not help the visitors tonight.

“It is about how long you can keep up the intensity in these games,” Blackadder said. “I feel that this year’s competition is even more physical than last year. Having said that, I am very pleased with how we have come through in training this week after the toll the Stormers game took on us. It is a short turnaround for us with it being a Friday game and the challenge is there for our guys to step up against a Sharks team that we respect and that will be refreshed from their bye.”

Interestingly, Blackadder said that the Crusaders had taken note of the tragic incident that occurred after the Rebels game and that while their job is to focus on the rugby, they would look forward to the Kings Park post-match experience.

“We were very sad to hear what happened. But the atmosphere on the Kings Park outer fields is special and we always look forward to mixing with the crowd after the game and will do so again,” he said.

Blackadder said his analysis of the Sharks’ season so far reminded him of his own team.

“I think both teams started slowly and are now building towards their best form,” he said. “The Sharks play a bit like New Zealand teams in how they try to use the ball and explore the width of the field.”

The Sharks scored a record 10 tries against the Rebels and while they will find the Crusaders’ defence an entirely different proposition to that of the Melbourne team, they have rediscovered their confidence to cross the try line.

“When we think of the Sharks we think of a team that was good enough to defy the odds and make the final of the 2012 competition,” Blackadder said. “That was some achievement.”

The Crusaders are a team that know better than anybody else what is required to make the Super rugby final. Since 1998, they have played 10 finals and won seven of them, and missed the play-offs just once.

But what will be bugging the good folk of Christchurch is that the last title was won in 2008 and that is four years too long for the most demanding fans in rugby.

But Blackadder knows that panic can only be counter-productive.

“You are under pressure but you have to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise it affects your decision-making, the players, and the people you work with,” he says. “It can’t all be about the one outcome – winning a title.”

He is inferring that each week you do the best you can to secure the result in front of you and then hopefully the title takes care of itself. And it has certainly worked for the Crusaders over the years. They tend to be slow out of the blocks and then build irresistible momentum towards the business end of the competition.

Blackadder’s countryman, John Plumtree, will have been telling his Sharks charges exactly that this week – you let the Crusaders get into their stride at your peril. And that should add up to an explosive start to tonight’s match. It will not be for the faint of heart as two determined, in-form teams fight for the upper hand in a game that is too close to call.

Sharks: Frans Steyn, Odwa Ndungane, Paul Jordaan, Meyer Bosman, JP Pietersen, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Keegan Daniel (captain), Marcell Coetzee, Jacques Botes, Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis, Kyle Cooper, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst, Anton Bresler, Ryan Kankowski, Charl McLeod, Riaan Viljoen, Louis Ludik / Sbura Sithole.

Crusaders: Tom Marshall, Adam Whitelock Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Zac Guildford, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock (captain), Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Telusa Veainu, Israel Dagg.

Referee: Lourens van der Merwe

By Mike Greenaway

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