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ABSA Currie Cup Preview and Prediction – Semi-final

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Lions, Original Content, Sharks on 16 Oct 2014 at 14:56
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , ,

The Sharks head up to Ellis Park to take on the Lions in the first Currie Cup semi-final on Saturday, in a repeat of a fixture that we previewed just a fortnight ago.

Golden Lions v Sharks (14h30 on Saturday in Johannesburg)

So what’s different?
I think the benefit of having previewed a game between roughly the same line-ups very recently – and then seen how that preview played out in reality – is huge. rugby is, of course, a funny old game and things often don’t turn out quite the way you expect them to. For the Lions, one major change ahead of kick-off in Durban was the loss of their fullback, necessitating a reshuffle that saw Marnitz Boshoff moved away from the all-important flyhalf channel. Jaco van der Walt didn’t bring the sort of composure that they were looking for in that number 10 shirt and without inspirational leader Warren Whiteley there either, the Lions really didn’t give the best account of themselves.

What I guess I’m trying to say is that we probably shouldn’t read too much into the showing they put up two weeks ago in Durban, because I feel the Lions did a good job of beating themselves that day. The Sharks took their opportunities better, but certainly didn’t look like scoring lots of tries, rather relying on the boot of Fred Zeilinga.

The Lions will be at least 50% better
That’s right. The Lions have all their key players back in the right positions this week and will be playing at home, where the stadium and vocal crowd lift them. All of the comments that I made about their game previously are still valid and they will look to use quick ruck ball, continuity via offloads, pace, space and generally superior levels of fitness and skill to tire the slightly heavier Sharks. Pro Legoete was pretty merciless when it came to penalising them at ruck time in Durban; they’ll fare better this week and the Sharks will need to be a hell of lot better on defence – particularly man-on-man tackling, than they have been to date this season. In short, letting the Lions control possession will be suicide. The Sharks cannot afford to let them get the ball.

Getting possession
Much has been said about the set piece and while the Sharks will give themselves a good chance (or perhaps too good a chance) of shading the lineout contest, they really cannot afford to be drawn into a scrum battle that they simply don’t have the technique or firepower to win. If they’re going to force a contest, then a lineout in the right parts of the field will probably be their best option; Lionel Cronje should not be afraid to probe for the corners, as long as he actually finds touch with those kicks. In-field launches that aren’t contestable (where the Sharks wingers should be better) are again nothing short of suicide.

Retaining possession
Even more crucial to the Sharks’ chances of success is making good use of the ball that they get; doing something useful with it, crossing the advantage line, keeping hold of it and ultimately creating try-scoring opportunities. Key to this, of course, is their approach to the ruck situation, one which they’ve not been getting completely right of late. My feeling – and this was played out the last time the Sharks played the Lions – is that they’re committing too many players to offensive rucks. Stats show that most of the time, on attacking ball, the Sharks are going to pile at least three players into a ruck, with the resulting press of bodies ironically making it harder for their scrumhalf to get the ball back quickly. The other downside, of course, is that by committing these numbers, a mismatch is created in terms of the number of defenders versus attackers – and not in the favour of the attacking side!

The advantage line
For the Sharks to prevail against the Lions, they’re going to need to keep their hosts on the back foot and ensure that they obtain and keep momentum. Getting the ball to the right players – those who have proven ability to cross the advantage line, is key. Too often the Sharks try to use Jacques Botes or Etienne Oosthuizen to cross that gain line, players who so far this season have battled to dominate there, while others like Tera Mtembu, Thomas du Toit or Stephan Lewies are cast in supporting roles. The team needs to organise themselves a little bit better here to ensure that each man does the job to which he is most suited. Adding to this is the fact that he Sharks should expect to be strong in midfield and really do need to use the crazy size advantage of Andre Esterhuizen to maximum effect. He is incredibly good at forcing his way past or over the first line of defence, but again, his team mates need to organise themselves better in order to get the ball quickly away from the contact point once he is eventually brought down.

Making good decisions, executing them well
The Sharks halfbacks have been a little inconsistent here and it might seem like a really obvious thing to say, but we absolutely have to have Cobus Reinach and Lionel Cronje operating at the very top of their game for there to be any chance of success. Reinach was rusty and made too many individual errors last week, while Cronje didn’t pick the right option quite often enough. The flyhalf has an uncanny ability to put the centres into space close to the advantage line, but it’s only a matter of time before one of those passes is read and intercepted, while his propensity to let them drift forward is also a little worrying.

Stop them dead, drive them back
All the above is well and good, but the reality is that the Lions are likely to have the ball far more often than we’d prefer. The Sharks, oddly enough, need to commit more players to defensive rucks. Their pack is bigger and stronger and there is a huge amount to be gained if they can turn over, or at least slow down, Lions ball by piling into defensive rucks and shifting the momentum. Get that right and the Lions loosies – on whom their game is built – will spend more time turning and joining rucks to try and save their own ball than they will running us to shreds one or two passes out from the breakdown point. Needless to say, none of this matters if we don’t make good first time tackles, preferably ones that preclude those bloody offloads.

The mental factor
Let’s add the usual cliche’s here about it being a knock-out game and how everyone needs to take their chances, etc. The reality is that neither side is likely to change their approach much, while both will clearly be very much up for the contest. I honestly don’t see either team having a clear edge in this area.

Who’s going to win?
I’d love to be wrong, but there are simply too many things that the Sharks would need to change in order to get a win here, whereas the Lions really just have to hit the “repeat” button on what they’ve been doing for most of the season. Home ground advantage will count, if nothing else does, meaning a reasonably-comfortable 5-point win for the Lions.

Golden Lions: 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Mark Richards, 22 Harold Vorster

Sharks: 15. SP Marais, 14. Tonderai Chavhanga, 13. S’bura Sithole, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Lionel Cronje, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Tera Mtembu (Capt) , 7. Etienne Oosthuizen, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Marco Wentzel, 4. Stephan Lewies, 3. Matt Stevens, 2. Kyle Cooper, 1. Thomas du Toit
Replacements: 16. Monde Hadebe, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. JC Astle, 20. Khaya Majola, 21. Conrad Hoffmann, 22. Fred Zeilinga

In the other semi-final, the Bulls are likely to come very close, but ultimately fall short to Western Province by just a few points.


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