The Cheetahs might be dragging along at the foot of the Super 14 log but the Sharks still regard them as a major threat as they look ahead to Saturday’s game in Bloemfontein.
John Bishop, www.sport24.com.
Both head coach John Plumtree and his assistant Grant Bashford have this week described the Cheetahs as the Sharks’ “bogey side”.
“They will be waiting for us up there in Bloem with their Harley’s roaring,” said Plumtree after the Sharks had beaten the Hurricanes.
And Bashford said on Monday that this was not just another Super 14 game. “This is one of those tough local derbies and the Free Staters will get themselves up for us. They might not have had the results this season but we do battle to beat them and it will be hard.
“Juan Smith (Springbok flank) is back and he is a major motivating factor in their side. We are certainly under no illusions.”
Bashford said that the Cheetahs had been highly competitive in nearly all their games only to fade in the final quarter.
And why do the Sharks battle with the Cheetahs?
“They are always competitive at the scrum and compete well in the lineout and they seem to disrupt our flow. This has resulted in us playing too much rugby in our own half and they pressure us into mistakes.
“Perhaps the ELVs will change this and certainly they no longer have Willem de Waal who used to kick us back into the corners and then force penalties.”
Bashford said that statistics of matches this year have proved little. “It just seems the stats are a lie and you cannot read anything into them.
Teams that have played the most rugby, like the Cheetahs, Blues, Lions, Reds, Western Force and even the Brumbies, are battling to make the play-offs.
“It’s been a weird season with possession not really seeming to count and territory meaning very little. You just can’t get caught up in the stats.”
Bashford said the the Sharks’ bye, after the 10th round and in a fortnight, was coming at the most opportune moment and it was hoped that Jean Deysel, Ruan Pienaar and JP Pietersen would all be back from injury for the final round robin games and the play-offs.
He said there was no question of resting players at this stage and there would not be any unnecessary changes for the Cheetahs.
However, the players were being managed with the squad split in two with those who have been more heavily involved have a lighter week than the others.
“There is still a heck of a lot of rugby still to be played and there are various areas where we can improve.”
A peak at the log table – with the Sharks at the top – would suggest that the Sharks are at their best but Bashford said that they were well short of peaking.
“We are still working on our attack and for some reason we are just not getting many opportunities to use the set pieces as a base. The result is that we have had to attack from far out. We’re as frustrated as everyone is about this, but the positive is that we are winning.”
The Sharks assistant coach said that other teams were having similar problems. “Maybe that’s the way the game is evolving with the new laws.”
He also praised the Sharks for their discipline. “We have done an enormous amount of defending this season but have not given away penalties and free kicks.”
“That’s an area we work at constantly, listening to the ref at the breakdown, and we’re really happy about that,” he said.Tweet