There are any number of possibilities and permutations going into this weekend’s crunch match with the Chiefs. For my money, there is only one sure way to ensure that the Sharks come out on top. Scrum early and scrum often.
To say that the Chiefs front row has been decimated by injuries would be somewhat of an understatement. Both Simms Davidson and Simon Lemalu have already flown home. They were joined by fellow prop Ben May, suspended for three weeks following a red card against the Lions. Hooker Tom Willis is still in doubt for the match, while reserve no 2 Aled de Malmanche suffers from asthma and is thus a liability over 80 minutes.
Reinforcements have arrived in the form of prop Nathan White, himself recently recovered from back surgery and hooker John Paeranga, a local club player making a big step up this weekend.
The Sharks, in contrast, suffer from an embarrassment of riches up front, with two full front rows full of in-form stars to choose from. BJ Botha and Beast Mtawarira have been so good this year that Bok props Jannie du Plessis and Deon Carstens have struggled to get into the starting lineup. Hooker Bismarck du Plessis and his understudy Craig Burden won’t take a step back in the scrums either and the Sharks are widely considered to have close to the best scrum in the entire competition.
Chiefs locks Kevin O’Neill and Toby Lynn are both suffering from over-use; their coach Ian Foster has as much as admitted that. The Sharks again have the option of picking two heavy scrummaging locks in Johan Ackermann and Johann Muller, with either Steven Sykes or Albert van den Berg to come on. I would opt for the former and might even consider picking a full front row on the bench, just to ensure 80 minutes of pain up front for the Chiefs.
Supremacy in the scrums will have a knock-on effect to other areas of the forward contest, tying up the Chiefs’ big loose forward runners and tiring them out. As the fatigue starts to tell, the gaps will open up around the fringes allowing the Sharks to run riot and score the tries that they need.
About the only thing that could mess up this plan would be enough early front row injuries to the Chiefs (whether real or imagined) that uncontested scrums become a factor.Tweet