There’s just something about big Sione Lauaki. I’m not sure what it is about the guy, but somehow, in Hamilton, the Sharks just never seem able to tackle him effectively. It’s a problem going back years, now – when we play the Hamilton lads in their backyard, Lauaki has a storming game and the Sharks lose. You can almost set your watch by it.
There’s very little doubt that the Sharks have the Chiefs’ number in all of the important areas of tight five play; the scrum will dominate, the lineouts should provide good attacking ball and the Durban men are more accurate and effective at the breakdown. The Chiefs were particularly poor in all of these areas against the Waratahs last week and the smart money seems to point to an overwhelming possession advantage for the visitors. Then again, a week is a hell of a long time in rugby. Add to that a crazy journey halfway across the world and a team smarting from two early defeats and desperate to get their campaign back on track at home and it starts to become anyone’s game.
Add Lauaki to the mix and the scale tips markedly in the Chiefs’ favour.
The good news for John Plumtree and his men is that the big islander looks unlikely to recover from his hamstring strain in time to face them this weekend. The bad news is that he’s by no means the only dangerous runner in the Chiefs lineup and given the unusually porous nature of the Sharks’s midefield defence of late, there remains plenty work to be done before Plumtree will feel his team is ready to face up to the challenge. Mils Muliaina won’t be there either, but with the Chiefs halfbacks, Brendon Leonard and Stephen Donald, shading their Sharks counterparts in terms of experience – both individually and as a combination – there is plenty of reason to fear the attacking prowess of the Waikato side. Richard Kahui, Leila Masaga and particularly Sitiveni Sivivatu are lethal strike runners in the three quarters and in the opening two weeks, it has appeared that a bit of pace is all that’s really necessary to unlock the brittle Sharks defensive line.
For the Sharks, team selection will be key. Jacques Botes, Deon Carstens and John Smit must all start. It’s vital that the Sharks have their best technical tight five on the park from the beginning, to really put the squeeze on their Chiefs counterparts. Botes will be there with a single brief – use your speed rock-solid defensive game to ensure that any linebreaks are snuffed out before any real damage can be done. Once the softening job has been done and the Chiefs pack are dead on their feet, Beast, Bissy and Keegan Daniel can be given free reign to make merry. If Lauaki does recover in time, Jean Deysel is the man who needs to be tasked with keeping him in check. They have yet to invent something that Wolla can’t bring down.
As for the backs – well, they need to keep it simple in order to let the forwards do their job. If you have a clearly ascendant pack, you need to provide them with enough opportunities to really use that advantage. This means slowing the game down, playing in the opponents half and using the rush defence to force mistakes. Kockott, Pienaar and Terblanche will need to be at the top of their respective games when it comes to planning and execution of their tactical kicks. Just keep turning them, put the ball into the corner and let the forwards take it from there.