Sharks caught between a rock and the Lions
It would be easy to say the Sharks are caught between a rock and a hard place‚ and they are.
The Sharks will be damned if they beat the Lions at Kings Park on Saturday and they will be damned if they don’t.
They will be robbed of critical playoff momentum after their loss to the Bulls two weeks ago while there’s the significant matter of having to travel to New Zealand for a playoff in Wellington or Christchurch depending on what happens in the said Crusaders v Hurricanes match.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez is not worried about the outcome of the New Zealand match or which playoff destination they will be heading to next week.
The Sharks were the one South African Super Rugby side to give the Lions a proper run for their money in the round-robin stage and Du Preez is aware of how tough the Lions are. After all‚ Johan Ackermann’s side have won 11 consecutive matches with one loss to the Jaguares.
“It will be one of our toughest games because there’s a lot to play for. We need to get our campaign back on track and put in a good performance before the quarterfinal‚” Du Preez said.
“The Lions also have a lot to play for so we know it’s going to be exciting. With the fact that we’ve got a potential quarterfinal against a New Zealand team plus the Lions‚ we’ve needed to increase our intensity and ball in play time.
“We felt very unlucky not to have won that game against the Lions and we did play well in that specific game. I hope we’re going to have a repeat performance and also win the game this time. We have to be accurate with our set-pieces and put their key players under pressure.”
Ackermann also has the joy of easing his first choice inside centre Rohan Janse Van Rensburg off the bench ahead of what will be the coach’s last round-robin Super Rugby match with the Lions.
It would be easy for Ackermann to get caught up in the emotion of finishing with the Lions on a high but there are four more games to be won before tournament win thoughts can be entertained.
Ackermann recognised the need for his team to be more street-smart against the Sharks‚ especially with how the Sharks went toe-to-toe with them on April Fool’s Day when they won 34-29 at Ellis Park.
“We’ve done the job in terms of getting the home quarterfinal. That’s the tough part‚ but you still want to have good momentum going into the playoffs‚” Ackermann said.
“Our focus is on this week and we’re not going to look beyond that. We have to respect the Sharks and it’s nice to have a pressure game before the playoffs.
“It’s more important for us in terms of how we perform in the 80 minutes instead of worrying about what could happen in the future.
“We can’t change our mindset in a few hours and the mindset is to perform on Saturday. The Sharks have a quality side and they have everybody back on Saturday.”
Sharks –15 Lwazi Mvovo‚ 14 Kobus van Wyk‚ 13 Lukhanyo Am‚ 12 André Esterhuizen‚ 11 Sbusiso Nkosi‚ 10 Garth April‚ 9 Cobus Reinach‚ 8 Daniel du Preez‚ 7 Jean-Luc du Preez‚ 6 Philip van der Walt (c)‚ 5 Stephan Lewies‚ 4 Etienne Oosthuizen‚ 3 Coenie Oosthuizen‚ 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle‚ 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee‚ 17 Juan Schoeman‚ 18 Lourens Adriaanse‚ 19 Jean Droste‚ 20 Tera Mtembu‚ 21 Michael Claassens‚ 22 Curwin Bosch‚ 23 Jeremy Ward.
Lions –15 Andries Coetzee‚ 14 Ruan Combrinck‚ 13 Lionel Mapoe‚ 12 Harold Vorster‚ 11 Courtnall Skosan‚ 10 Elton Jantjies‚ 9 Ross Cronjé‚ 8 Ruan Ackermann‚ 7 Kwagga Smith‚ 6 Jaco Kriel‚ 5 Franco Mostert‚ 4 Andries Ferreira‚ 3 Ruan Dreyer‚ 2 Malcolm Marx‚ 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe‚ 17 Corné Fourie‚ 18 Johannes Jonker‚ 19 Lourens Erasmus‚ 20 Cyle Brink‚ 21 Faf de Klerk‚ 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg‚ 23 Sylvian Mahuza.