Sharks want to take Odwa Ndugane to the final‚ says Robert du Preez
With the manner in which the Sharks have gone about their Currie Cup business this season‚ they’ve had the least to worry about in terms of semifinal permutations.
With their rip-roaring 10-match unbeaten sequence‚ the Sharks ensured their fate will be in their hands come the final round.
However‚ Sharks coach Robert du Preez is not taking their clash against Western Province at King’s Park on Saturday afternoon lightly.
John Dobson’s Province made a dog’s breakfast of a decent opportunity of clinching a home semifinal when they allowed the Golden Lions to overturn a 10-point deficit into a 29-20 bonus point win at Ellis Park on Sunday.
That means Western Province have to beat a Sharks side that has yet to drop a game at home this season or wait nervously to see where they will be travelling next week.
Saturday’s 3pm kickoff will also be a poignant one for the Sharks as it will be Odwa Ndungane’s 249th game ahead of his planned retirement at the end of this campaign.
The Sharks are guaranteed a home semifinal but they will only know who they will be hosting on Saturday evening.
“Odwa is a fantastic stalwart and he’s been great in the last couple of matches that he’s been involved in‚” Du Preez said.
“He’s a mentor to all of the young guys and a guy with great leadership qualities. It’s great to have a player like him and hopefully we’ll see him through all the way to the final.
“It’s always a challenge coming off a bye. We had a disrupted week because of the storm on Tuesday but I’m happy with the preparations and we’ll be ready for the game on Saturday.
“We also owe it to our fans to put a proper show on for them. Home advantage is great but the team still has to go out and perform.”
The Blue Bulls and the Pumas have a virtual quarterfinal in Pretoria on Friday night‚ but both sides could find themselves out of the running because of events elsewhere.
The Bulls are fifth with 27 points and the Pumas are sixth with 26. The most those teams can finish with is 32 and 31 respectively‚ the points Western Province (second) and the Cheetahs (third) have.
Blue Bulls head coach John Mitchell has confidence in his charges after their big 64-36 win against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last week.
“I guess it’s a quarterfinal and they’ll take strength and heart from their performance in Nelspruit‚” Mitchell said.
“They’ll come for our heart and they’ll come for our forwards but we’re looking forward to the challenge.
"It’ll be a good measure for us in terms of how we’ve grown emotionally and how we’ve understood certain aspects of the game.”
The Cheetahs and the Golden Lions‚ who meet at Ellis Park on Saturday‚ have been on different spectrums this season.
The former got off to a fast start that’s tailed off badly‚ with the past two matches seeing Daan Human’s side on the receiving end of 59-24 and 64-36 hammerings against the Griquas and the Blue Bulls.
However‚ with the Pro14 on a short hiatus‚ Human has included a few players to fortify his team.
The Lions have bounced back from an indifferent middle period in their campaign with a young side to compete for a semifinal spot‚ which two weeks ago seemed to be beyond their capabilities.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin said they've gathered enough momentum to take them through the game.
“The nature of the competition has been up and down. We’ve been third‚ fourth‚ bottom and third again‚” De Bruin said.
“It’s been a strange competition so putting pressure on the guys won't be fair. We play to inspire God and we want to score tries.”
Blue Bulls v Pumas (Loftus Versfeld‚ 7pm)
Sharks v Western Province (King’s Park‚ 3pm)
Golden Lions v Free State Cheetahs (Ellis Park‚ 5.15pm)