With exactly 5 days to go until the Sharks play the Lions at Kings Park for a place in the final I must admit there’s this feeling at the pit of my stomach that I just can’t get rid of.
It is not a feeling of doom, not at all. I am confident each time the Sharks reach this stage of a competition. I know when looking at the team and looking at their last five performances that this team could beat any other team. I know that aside from a couple of players I would feel comfortable with this particular team going on the end of year tour for the Springboks and I would also feel confident in the fact that they could win most of their games in Europe. Yet I can’t shake this feeling, I’ve felt this confident before and it has always turned out really bad for me. I have semi final jitters, I can only hope the Sharks players are in a better state of mind than I am.
Here I am going over so many things in my mind, trying to calm myself down, trying to convince myself that this time it will be different. We played all the teams in the play-offs in the past couple of weeks and still reaching our top form we beat all of these teams with relative comfort. Only two weeks ago we beat the Lions in their own back yard breaking a 12 year hoodoo, this must give us some kind of edge? Here we are playing against a team in the semi final, who in their last two games clearly never fought for a win, as far as I could see they never even really believed they could win, their only aim was to scrape through and get the points they need to stay in the fight for a place in the play-offs. We ended in the top spot of the Currie Cup log, we’re playing in front of a home crowd. We just had the perfect warm-up game, we seem to be smoothing out any small problems we might have had, we have minimal injuries and we have more than 10 players in our team that will most probably be in the end of year squad. On the other hand the Lions just played in a battle of a match, not doing much more than putting their bodies on the line in defense, this game really would not have been ideal as a warm-up match and even though they have plenty of players in their team with potential I count only one or two guy’s who might be selected in a Springbok team. Why after all of this do I still get that feeling of slight nausea every time I even think of this game?
The Sharks had a great game this weekend, aside from a period of play in the second half when Plumtree made many of his replacements, the Sharks looked clean and clinical with a bit of flair from a couple of players. A guy like Keegan Daniel showed that he could add value to any team, aside from his good supportive play, flair and pace he also proved that he might be small, but gaining ground with 5 of his 9 carries he could also be an effective ball carrier. It also seems that with Keegan as a smaller loosie Francois Steyn shared some of his responsibilities with him. He was used to crash the ball over the advantage line 5 times and gained ground with these drives 3 times. Just to make it clear, these are runs he made when he was used as a second ball carrier and not from inside center or from loose ball.
The guys that worked the hardest in this game, but would never get the glory for their grunt work were Jacques Botes and Steven Sykes. Out of 63 attacking rucks these guys were involved at 43 with Botes the dominant partner in this combination cleaning out 24 rucks. The player cleaning out the third most is Steyn with 12. And just because this is always a talking point on this site, Steyn had possession of the ball 24 times, he passed 10 times, he ran 9, 4 of which was go forward ball and 2 line breaks, the other 5 was kicks.
Setting all stats aside and just looking at the game and players overall. The first 40min is how we really want to play, after that Plumtree was trying to save his first choice players, but he should never make replacements like he did in this game. I don’t really think it’s a problem with who came on and where they played, but more because of the amount of players that was changed in a very short while. Ryan Kankowski was our flair and if he could play like this for two more games…well I’d rather not say it. I would definitely rather swap Ruan to 10 with Kockett coming on to 9 than switching Steyn to 10 and Barritt coming on at 12. Kockett is a great impact player and Ruan has proven his worth at 10.
The Lions are a good team, they’re especially good on the ground, but the Sharks has guys like Botes and Deysel who can more than stand their ground.
Just talking stats and facts and looking at the quality of our players some of my nausea is replaced with a little more calm, it’s a semi final and anyone can win it, all bets are of right, but I’m thinking we’ll take this one by more than 15 and then I’m looking forward to and dreading the Bulls in the final.Tweet