The Pumas may not be in the Cheetahs’ league, literally and figuratively, but the Sharks are happy with any ‘cat-fight’ for the start of their pre-season match-practice.
Rugby 365′s Jan De Koning reports that it was confirmed on Monday that the Pumas will replace the Cheetahs as opposition for the Sharks in their first Super 14 warm-up match.
The Sharks were due to face the Cheetahs in a state-of-the-art stadium, The Sevens, in Dubai. The game was called off when the sponsors pulled out due to financial pressure created by the global credit crunch.
Rather than re-arrange the game at a local venue, the Cheetahs decided to play Griquas instead – leaving the Sharks to make their own arrangements.
The Pumas, a struggling second tier provincial union, is certainly not in the class of a Super 14 franchise, the Cheetahs, and neither is Witbank’s Johann van Riebeeck Stadium the idyllic setting that Dubai would have provided.
But neither the Sharks’ coaching staff, nor their players, are concerned about the downgrading of the game.
Sharks coach John Plumtree, initially very disappointed with the Cheetahs’ decision, has decided to turn the trip upcountry into a positive and will now field mostly fringe players – using the outing to test his team’s depth, rather than give his frontline selections a run.
And the players share in the coach’s optimism, making it clear they will not allow any setback to distract them from the goal – winning the Super 14 for the first time.
Effervescent Sharks scrumhalf Rory Kockott also saw mostly positives in the change of opposition, even if it means key players like himself won’t be in the frontline on Saturday.
“Obviously the guys were looking forward to the Cheetahs game, especially with the venue [in Dubai],” Kockott told rugby365.com in an interview from Durban.
“But we are not going to stress about not playing that game,” he said, adding that there are other ways of making up for the lack in intensity that opposition like the Pumas will provide.
“We we’ll catch it [the intensity] up before the Super 14 starts,” he said in reference to the team’s second pre-season outing – against the Bulls in Durban on February 4.
The scrumhalf said not playing against the Cheetahs this week means there is an added opportunity for individuals to look at certain aspects of their own game, while others can put in extra work on the training pitch.
He admitted that there is no foolproof formula for a pre-season build-up.
“You see that some New Zealand and Australian teams have three or four games – running straight into Super 14 without a break,” Kockott told rugby365.com.
“That can have its pros and cons. Teams can be well oiled – having worked through their plays, knowing what they want to do and don’t want top do.
“Then there is the down side – you risk injuries and you could also become a bit strained towards the end of the Super 14. It is definitely one of the toughest and longest competitions in the world and you could start feeling it towards your 17th or 18th match if you play too many pre-season games.”
The lightning-quick, skilful and tenacious scrumhalf 22-year-old scrumhalf said the Sharks were happy with the amount of pre-season game time they will get.
“The team will be just fine after those two outings,” he added reassuringly.
Kockott, now in his third season of Super Rugby with the Durban-based franchise, said he has a more “settled” feeling in the build-up to this year’s competition.
“It is because of how the team has been put together over the last year and what we have achieved.
“Achieving things as a team [winning the Currie Cup in 2008] makes it easier for the future.
“We have certainly learned from both our successes and failures we had as a team in 2008. And [coach John] Plumtree has brought through a group of great players I feel are much stronger than I’ve felt before.”Tweet