Running an eye over the Sharks team named to take on the Cheetahs, there is far more to make one positive than may be immediately apparent.
In the tight five, the visiting Durbanites make a strong claim to having the better combination, on paper at least. While the Free State props, Wian du Preez and Kobus Calldo are both young an promising, their Sharks counterparts, Deon Carstens and Jannie du Plessis are Springbok veterans, boasting a hundred-and-plenty Currie Cup caps, as well as 20 or so Bok ones, between them. Although Sharks hooker Skipper Badenhorst has never really set the world alight, he does boast a fair bit of experience, having been around for bloody ever (he was at Affies the same time I was at Boys’ High, just to put this in perspective). His opposite number is, Jaco du Toit, has been pulled into the Cheetahs team at the last minute to cover for new Bok Adriaan Strauss. Whichever way you look at it, this move has to disrupt the Cheetahs to some extent. The Cheetahs would appear to have the upper hand on the bench, with Richardt Strauss more experienced than his Sharks counterpart Craig Burden. Both are dynamic, though and one would expect Burden to be sharper, given that Strauss is just coming back from injury. Robbie Harris has more experience than Phillip Lemmer, although neither replacement prop is really a world beater.
In the second row, each side boasts and experienced campaigner, with Johann Muller and Barend Pieterse both having been around seemingly for ever. Pieterse is a master at lineout time, but his relatively small stature ( only 1.96m and 110kg) has somewhat hampered his progress at higher levels of the game. Muller is bigger, stronger and is no slouch in the lineout himself. Also, he brings the experience of having captained the Boks in New Zealand; something which few can claim. Steven Sykes and David de Villiers are similar players, of similar size and playing style. Their battle at the front of the lineout, as well as in the tight phases, should be an interesting one to watch. On the bench, th Sharks may just have the second row battle won, with Albert van den Berg likely to have far more of an impact than journeyman Flip van der Merwe.
Free State appear to have the upper-hand in the loose forwards, with the combination of Hein Brüssow, captain Hendro Scholtz and Bioplus van der Merwe one of the form units in the competition. Their Sharks counterparts have struggled to gel all season and it won’t get any better this week with yet another new face at number 7. Jacques Botes and Keegan Daniel are operating quite well at 6 and 8 respectively, but big Nik Blignaut has never really shone as a loose forward and will need to up the tempo of his game considerably. The Sharks will want to win the tight five battle and try to suck the roving Cheetahs loose forwards in, but it’s going to be a long day for the Sharks if Brüssow gets up to his usual ball-stealing tricks. Skholiwe Ndlovu and Kabamba Floors are similar impact options and should cancel one another out, to an extent.
The halfback battle should be enthralling. Scott Mathie and Neil Powell are both journeymen at best, but one position further out we have the unpredictable Chris Rossouw against the frankly, completely crazy Frenchman Fred Michalak. The Sharks’ enfant formidable is just as capable of bamboozling his own teammates as he is the opposition, but when on fire, few can touch him. Certainly at his best, the pedestrian Rossouw would not be able to live with him. Which Fred will pitch up, though?
The Cheetahs have picked teenage wünderkind Rob Ebersohn at inside centre, with the defensively frail JW Jonker outside him. Although the youngster is a capable one-on-one tackler, he is a pretty tiny unit by today’s standards and the Sharks might feel that the Cheetahs midfield will present opportunities for the strong-running Andries Strauss and Waylon Murray to exploit. Then again, should Ebersohn be afforded any room whatsoever in which to weave his magic, the Sharks centres may well find themselves chasing Jonker to their own tryline all evening.
Henno Mentz and Eddie Fredericks are probably reasonably well matched on the one side of the field, with Fredericks possibly not as quick, but more dependable than the mercurial Mentz. On the other, expect fireworks as new Sharks sensation Chris Jordaan comes up against Jongi Nokwe, possibly the fastest man in the Currie Cup this year. Stef Terblanche and Bevin Fortuin will wage their own battle as opposing fullbacks and we can only hope that both opt to keep the aimless kicking out of it and rather aim to bring their wingers into play on the counter-attack.
The backline benches are much of a muchness. The Sharks’ danger-man will be replacement scrumhalf Charl McLeod, who has pace aplenty, while the Cheetahs will look to sevens star Fabian Juries to provide the spark coming on.
The Sharks can take this – the question is, do they want it badly enough?
Sharks: 15. Stefan Terblanche, 14. Chris Jordaan, 13. Waylon Murray, 12. Andries Strauss, 11. Henno Mentz, 10. Frederic Michalak, 9. Scott Mathie, 8. Keegan Daniel, 7. Nikolai Blignaut, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Johann Muller ( Capt ), 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Skipper Badenhorst, 1. Deon Carstens
Replacements: 16. Craig Burden, 17. Robbie Harris, 18. Albert van den Berg, 19. Skholiwe Ndlovu, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Riaan Swanepoel, 22. Monty Dumond
Free State: 15 .Bevin Fortuin; 14 .Eddie Fredericks, 13. JW Jonker, 12. Robert Ebersohn, 11. Jongi Nokwe; 10. Chris Rossouw, 9. Neil Powell; 8. Schalk van der Merwe, 7. Hendro Scholtz (capt.), 6. Heinrich Brussow, 5. Barend Pieterse, 4. David de Villiers, 3. Kobus Calldo, 2. Jaco du Toit, 1. Wian du Preez. Replacements: 16. Richardt Strauss, 17. Phillip Lemmer, 18. Flip van der Merwe, 19. Kabamba Floors, 20. Tewis de Bruyn, 21. Hendrik Meyer, 22. Fabian JuriesTweet