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ABSA Currie Cup Preview – Round 8


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content, Sharks on 26 Sep 2014 at 10:08
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , ,

Last weekend’s much-needed away win in Pretoria gave the Sharks a welcome boost n terms of log position; they started the round clinging desperately to fourth, yet ended it third thanks also to a no-point performance in Johannesburg from the Pumas. This weekend, against the Kings, an opportunity to consolidate that position presents itself, but the Sharks will need to be well on their guard in this potential banana peel of a fixture.

Sharks v EP Kings – 2:00pm Saturday in Durban

On the surface, it all looks deceptively simple. The Kings have endured a nightmare start to their Premier Division tenure, with losses in all seven of their games to date adding plenty of strings to the bows of their detractors. While the Sharks haven’t exactly been great themselves, they have, at least, won more than they’ve lost and looking at log position alone, you’d be hard pressed to call anything other than a relatively straightforward win for the home side.

Then again, Griquas came to Durban three weeks ago in a similar position and recorded their first win of an otherwise stagnant campaign against a Sharks team that loves to deliver uninspiring play against supposedly smaller teams, while most often saving their best for tougher opposition.

Individual errors
While the Sharks are definitely improving in the regard of unforced errors, it remains a serious handbrake to the type of game they want to play. You can’t play a high-paced ball-in-hand type of style if you can’t catch the ball, much less can you rely on a territory-based approach if there is no accuracy on kicks out of hand. Missed tackles are poison to either style of play, as they hand the enemy unnecessary momentum. All of these factors were again visible in abundance at Loftus, albeit mostly during the first half and seemed to abate once the team finally “clicked” in the second period. The Sharks must have loftier ambitions this week and must surely be targeting a bonus point against the Kings; the extent to which the “play against themselves”, to borrow a quote from Jimmy Stonehouse, will go a long way to determining whether they achieve that aim.

The scrum
Lineouts worked well enough last week (one could argue that they worked better on opposition ball than our own!) and should again be a strength against a Kings line up lacking in any renowned line-out exponents, although the 2m+ Steve Cummings will loom large as a threat towards the middle. Marco Wentzel ran matters pretty flawlessly at Loftus and the presence of an extra lock in Etienne Oosthuizen adds plenty of options. It’s the scrum battle, though, where the Sharks really do have to improve on their Loftus showing. While the Kings have suffered some injuries, they do have the experience of CJ van der Linde to call on this week and the veteran will have noted the way Werner Kruger troubled Dale Chadwick last week. The guy who really needs to step up this week, though, is JC Astle; so much of what goes on at scrum time is actually determined by your second row and with the Sharks playing a lighter lock pairing, it’s perhaps not surprising that the scrums are looking less than stellar. Key here for the hosts will be to ensure own ball with as little fuss as possible, while saving their real ammunition for attacks elsewhere.

Experience
The Sharks have lost an important leader this week, with Jacques Botes and his 150+ caps joining another centurion, Odwa Ndungane, on the sidelines. They’ll need their more experienced players, among whom Wentzel, Kyle Cooper and Lwazi Mvovo will be key, to step up and keep the team heading in the right direction. Chadwick earns a 40th Currie Cup cap this week and is certainly no greenhorn any more; he’ll have a big role to play (as will all the forwards) in ensuring momentum and continuity. It’s important that those with more caps at this level guide the inexperienced khaya Majola through his first 80 minutes of senior rugby.

The dreaded D-word
That’s right, discipline will be very firmly on the agenda. Apart from their own errors, NOTHING has kiboshed the Sharks quite so much this year as their alarming propensity for conceding penalties at the wrong times. They lost to Griquas and drew against Free State directly because of poor discipline, while handing the Bulls ample fodder at Loftus too (13 penalties in the game!) This week, they’ll come up against Ben Crouse again, one of those referees who just seems to plain dislike the Sharks and who was far from even-handed when he blew their game in Nelspruit. Tera Mtembu has a huge task ahead of him this weekend; he needs to improve his management of the referee during the game, while at the same time demanding better all-round discipline from his troops.

The gain-line battle
A key statistic from Loftus – and one which goes a long way to explaining the result – is this; the Sharks managed to cross the advantage line with an impressive 31% of all ball carries, compared to a measly 18% from the Bulls. Key to the continuity-based game is players being able to eke out those yards and keep the ball alive in doing so. Lionel Cronje’s alignment on attack and accurate flat pass will again be key, while strong contributions from noted forward carriers like Cooper, Mtembu and Esterhuizen will again be needed to keep the momentum up – and the Kings defence on the back foot.

The top two inches
All of the above is pretty much wasted breath, though, if the Sharks don’t pitch for the game. It might sound strange, but I feel the pressure of playing at home gets to the boys, with a fickle Durban crowd as likely to boo (or worse, walk out at halftime) as they are to cheer constructive play. Many have highlighted the impact of a strangely sharks-heavy crowd at Loftus last week as a big factor in the win. The Sharks will face a double whammy this week in the form of their less-than-inspiring Durban fan base and their own inexplicable ennui at being asked to face a less-fancied side. It’s a cliche, I know, but if the Sharks don’t want to win this game desperately enough, the Kings will find a way to punish them. After all, the visitors’ luck has to turn at some point…. why not this week?

Prediction
We’ll cast doom and gloom aside (even if predicting a loss last week had a wonderful effect) and back the Sharks to win by a comfortable 12 points this week. I won’t make predictions about a bonus point, simply because I don’t know which Sharks side will turn up. If they can pick up from last week, though, there could be tries aplenty, with the names of Mvovo and Sithole again featuring prominently.

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu (captain), 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Khaya Majola, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 JC Astle, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Stephan Lewies, 19 Johan Meyer, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Tim Swiel, 22 Tonderai Chavhanga.

EP Kings: 15 Siviwe Soyizwapi 14 Ronnie Cooke 13 Tim Whitehead 12 Shane Gates 11Ntabeni Dukisa 10 Gary van Aswegen 9 Tobie Botes 8 Paul Schoeman 7 Devin Oosthuizen 6 Stefan Willemse 5 Steven Cummins 4 Darron Nel (capt) 3 CJ van der Linde 2 Martin Ferreira 1 Charl Marais
Replacements: 16 Albe Swardt 17 Charl du Plessis 18 Cameron Lindsay 19 Thembelani Bholi 20 Tim Agaba 21 Kevin Luiters 22 Scott van Breda

In other fixtures, we expect the Lions to record an away win over Griquas, while the Cheetahs will edge the Bulls in Bloemfontein. The Pumas-WP match in Nelspruit will be interesting indeed, since Stonehouse and his men have won both of their home games against big 5 opposition to date. Province are going to battle there, but I fancy they might just sneak a win.



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