The bottom line with this fixture is that a correctly focused Sharks team should beat the Cheetahs tomorrow (3pm), never mind that it is the log leaders’ bogey team and that it is in Bloemfontein.
The thing is, when you get to round nine, there are good reasons why one team is top of the log (with seven wins from eight games) and another team is bottom of the log (and winless), so when they clash at this stage of the game there should be only one winner, provided, as we have already said, there is no attitude malfunction from the favourites.
Mike Greenaway writes in The Mercury that the Sharks are the Super 14′s best team because they had an excellent pre-season preparation in that they are extremely fit, are superbly coached, execute the basics with precision – from set pieces to defence, to their kicking game; because they have strong leaders and because they have very good players.
The Cheetahs do not compare too favourably on most of those counts, but the one thing we can be assured of is that that they will take the field with the fanaticism typical of written-off renegades.
If they beat the Sharks, the Super 14 log leaders, then everything will be okay. It will be like taking one heck of a Disprin. The pain will go away.
It is unlikely to happen because the Sharks have seen this video before in 2009, the one where they are expected to thump a team at the bottom of the table, only to end up Reds-faced.
Once bitten, twice shy, and lesson learnt. The thing about that game in Brisbane is that the Sharks’ management team had seen the warning signs as early as the Sunday after they had beaten the Blues in Auckland, and sounded the alarm bell every day of the build-up to the match against the Queenslanders.
But players hearing that they need to watch out for complacency, and even talking about it among themselves, is one thing – actually believing it in the subconscious is quite another.
Well, the Sharks’ collective subconscious took a smack from a Reds team that were superstars for a day (in their next two games, against the Chiefs and Force, they conceded 89 points), while Johann Muller’s team responded with a convincing win over the Force the next week and over the last fortnight played quite brilliantly to beat the Brumbies and Hurricanes in Durban.
All Muller has to say in his team talk tomorrow is: “Reds game, guys, and South African derby!”
Enough said. In the next-door changeroom, the Cheetahs will be taking a lot of heart from having their captain back from a six-week absence from the run-on team. Juan Smith was seriously concussed early in the Cheetahs’ disastrous five-match tour, but at last he is back on the flank, and the Sharks will not underestimate his influence on the team.
The Sharks know the Cheetahs will come out of the starting blocks like, well, cheetahs, but they will also know that if they can match that early enthusiasm, they will save themselves a heck of a lot of hard work later in the match.
In other words, Muller will be reminding his players that it would be ill-advised to let the home team harness wind in their sails.
No fine. It should be a great start to a very lively match.Tweet