My blood runs cold when I hear people say how easily we’re going to beat the Cheetahs this weekend.
Fact is, the Sharks haven’t beaten the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup AT ALL since 2003. That’s 5 years, boys and that kind of stain doesn’t just wash out. This isn’t the Super 14; it’s the Currie Cup. The Cheetahs have their name on the trophy, with three very important numbers next to it – 2005, 2006 and 2007. Another set of numbers is equally important: 31-9. That was the score when we played the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in the first round. They scored four tries. We managed three penalties. Same year, same coaches.
Different team, though, for us this time round and not just in terms of personnel. Sure, the Sharks have more returning Springboks than the Cheetahs do, but let’s not forget that the real renaissance for the Sharks came against Griquas in Kimberley. For the first time this season, we played a game we could be proud of and that was accomplished without our plethora of Springbok stars.
Last week’s performance against the Bulls was encouraging, as it showed that the reintroduction of the Boks didn’t disrupt the momentum of the team all that much, although Frans Steyn, in particular, looks as though he really needs to settle. Ruan Pienaar, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen and Bismarck du Plessis all slotted in with very little effort and added to the team performance, rather than attempting to overshadow their non-Bok team mates. There will be further changes this week and the chances are that Currie Cup stalwarts like Deon Carstens, Keegan Daniel and Craig Burden are going to start missing out. How this will affect the morale of the team is a key point. Already, some of the real stars of the early stages of the campaign, such as Chris Jordaan and Riaan Swanepoel have been sent back to club rugby.
That aside, though, the Cheetahs are always a quality side and understand Currie Cup rugby very well. They have a superb pack and probably the best loose trio in the competition. Losing Chris Rossouw may well prove to be a blessing in disguise for them, as a more running style as favoured by Tewis de Bruyn is likely to result in more ball for the exciting Rob Ebersohn, who can easily turn a game on its head. He may not be as big as Frans Steyn or Waylon Murray, but I predict he won’t have too much difficulty beating either of them in a one-on-one situation.
Look, I still believe the Sharks have every reason to be full of confidence going into this game. We are playing superb rugby and have a team that, on paper at least, should be at least ten points better than the Cheetahs. They are still the current champs, though and need to win every remaining game to avoid the ignominy of potentially missing out altogether on the semi-finals. The Sharks can’t afford to take anything for granted here.Tweet