The Waratahs must spend as much time as possible in the Sharks’ half if they are to stifle the danger of Francois Steyn’s kicking in their Super 14 semi-final at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday night.
Rupert Guiness writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that if they allow the Springbok to put boot to ball within 60 metres of the Waratahs line, he can either set up a try-scoring counter-attack or kick vital penalty points.
Either way, and despite the challenge the Sharks’ forward pack will throw down to the Waratahs, Steyn is the one individual who looms as the difference between the Waratahs winning or losing.
The Waratahs, who earned their home semifinal by finishing second on the ladder after last week’s win over the Reds in Brisbane, were dealt a late blow to their preparation when David Lyons pulled up with a hamstring injury at training.
The back-rower is now a major doubt, with the result of scans taken yesterday to determine whether he is fit to take his place on the bench.
On standby is flanker Beau Robinson, an aggressive ball scavenger and defender whose speed around the ruck could come in handy – especially in helping to close down Steyn.
At least the Waratahs know what to expect from Steyn. World rugby has seen all too often how he can cruel the winning intention of any side – no more spectacularly than with penalty kicks from as far out as 60m.
Ewen McKenzie’s men – who yesterday were desperate to know if Steyn was playing after struggling with a rib injury – must ensure they keep their discipline in order to keep the danger man shackled.
Steyn has been passed fit to start so his threat is now very real to the Tahs.
“We are conscious that he can kick from anywhere,” said McKenzie, who was named Australian Super 14 Coach of the Year last night, after announcing his side for the semi-final clash.
McKenzie is confident his players will at least not jeopardise their final hopes by giving away silly penalties. “We have not had a discipline issue all year. We are one of the sides that concedes the least amount of penalties,” he said.
It should be reassuring to hear captain Phil Waugh say he will ensure the side stays alert to the danger of providing the Sharks with chances to kick “penalties, field goals and every opportunity they get to take those three-pointers”.
Waugh, who on Saturday night will become the fourth NSW player to win 100 Super rugby caps, refuses to take too much from the Waratahs’ 25-10 win over the Sharks when they last played in round 11 at the SFS.
“I think they had an off night that night,” Waugh, the Waratahs’ openside flanker, said. “We will [also] have to play a lot better than we have in the last few weeks to win the semi-final.”
McKenzie believes the Sharks will be buoyed by their third-place finish.
He is also aware that the Sharks’ 20-19 defeat to the Bulls in last season’s final – with the winning score coming in the 82nd minute – will make them all the more determined to go all the way this year.
“They would have learned a lesson from that [loss]. They will be much better for that,” McKenzie said. “Two years prior,  they were bottom of the ladder. So they have come a long way.”
McKenzie expects the Sharks pack to throw everything at his forwards, who have become a real Super 14 force. How the NSW pack responds – or proactively takes them on – will determine what ball or space Steyn gets.
“If you write their names down on a piece of paper, they’re a pretty damn good scrum. There’s no question about that,” McKenzie said. “They’ve got Springbok props on the bench. They’ve recruited very well in that area.
“They’ll be banking on their forwards. Knowing the way they play, they’ll be relying very heavily on their scrum, on their driving maul, on their kicking game.”
Barring Robinson being placed on standby for Lyons on the bench, the one change McKenzie has made up front is the inclusion of hooker Adam Freier in the starting side for the injured Tatafu Polota-Nau.
In the backs, Rob Horne comes back into the starting side at outside-centre, with Matt Carraro returning to the bench.Tweet