The Sharks will be looking to thwart the Lions in the very area where they tend to dominate other opponents when the two sides clash in their Absa Currie Cup semifinal in Durban on Saturday.
Gavin Rich writes for Superrugby that Cobus Grobbelaar is probably the best individual breakdown exponent in the competition, challenged only really by Heinrich Brussow of the Cheetahs, and it was Grobbelaar’s ability to slow ball down that prevented Western Province from scoring the big win last week that would enable them to leapfrog the Lions into fourth place.
The Lions effectively turned the Newlands match into an arm wrestle, and the Sharks, not that it takes a rugby rocket sciencest to figure this out for yourself, have heard that they will be out to do the same at Absa Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It is something a succession of teams have tried against the Sharks, starting with the Western Force and then the Stormers on the opening weekends of the Super 14.
With an experienced and talented set of backs rapidly gaining form, and the Sharks renowned for their ability to strike from anywhere, it is understandable why opposing teams would want to do this, and the Lions felt the full brunt of the Sharks’ attacking power in the second half of the recent match at Coca-Cola Park.
But the Sharks are getting used to playing against teams who want to slow the ball down, and coach John Plumtree reckons they are getting better at negating it.
“We can get our share of quick bal, alright. While the Lions are a very tough and physical side at the breakdown, we can also dish it out. It is hardly going to be one-way traffic at the breakdowns,” said Plumtree.
It will be interesting to see which of his two specialist ball scavengers, Jacques Botes and Keegan Daniel, that Plumtree will go with for Saturday. Botes is the more experienced player, but Daniel has been in good form lately.
The Sharks fielded a two fetcher combination for much of the Super 14, but the combination did not work out, so this is unlikely to be the route he will go this time.
Jean Deysel has been one of the form players in the Super 14 so he selects himself at No 7, while Ryan Kankowski is in a league of his own at No 8 in this country now that he has recovered from the injury that was plaguing him earlier in the season.
Talking of Kankowski, he is one of several players in the Sharks team who is profiting from the massive focus that Plumtree puts on breakdown skills, something that he has in common with most New Zealand coaches, and this might be one of the reasons the Sharks’ cleaning out skills are the best of all South African teams.
Plumtree, since returning to South Africa as assistant coach of the Sharks in the 2007 Super 14, has always said that the battle to either get quick ball or to slow it down is what modern rugby is all about — and it is in this area that Saturday’s game will be decided.
The Lions’ tendency to commit numbers to the breakdown could play into the Sharks’ hands as if they do get quick ball back it leads to a situation where the Lions have a lack of numbers on defence, something the Sharks will look to exploit in the semifinal.Tweet