The Waratahs’ next opponents on their do-or-die run to the Super 14 finals are packed with superstar Springboks and hail from rugby-obsessed Durban but NSW back-rower Ben Mowen believes he has spotted a weakness – the Sharks can be rattled under pressure.
“They have some egos in that team, with good reason – they are [full of] world champions, they have a lot of Springboks,” said Mowen, one of many to impress in NSW’s 18-10 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last Friday. “But the thing about a team with guys with egos is that it can be rattled. And hopefully, if we can get a good start and apply that pressure, particularly at set pieces, I think we can get them unsettled.”
Rupert Guinness writes for Rugbyheaven Aus that The Sharks will have to do without at least one of their brightest stars, with inside back Francois Steyn ruled out of this weekend’s game with a knee injury and form halfback Rory Kockott set to face the judiciary for striking Highlanders No.6 Adam Thomson.
Mowen – who has almost made the NSW No.6 jersey his own, with regular blindside breakaway Dean Mumm playing second row this year – targets No.8 Ryan Kankowski as one such star who is ripe for the taking on Saturday (Sunday morning, Sydney time).
The 23-year-old was the South African Super 14 player of the year in 2008 but Mowen has an idea how he may negate his impact on the game.
“Like with those big loose forwards in those Kiwi teams, you have to be confrontational early, put them under pressure and let them know you are there to get stuck in,” he said.
“[Kankowski] is obviously a very talented player and a great runner. The more pressure you can apply in set piece and limit his opportunities and put him under pressure early, [the more] you will take a strong part of his game away. I think you can frustrate him and get in him that way.”
The Sharks are in fourth place on the ladder with 35 points, and the Waratahs are fifth on 32 after 12 rounds, meaning the stakes are high going into Saturday’s game.
“It is almost a semi-final intensity for both teams,” Mowen said. “After the results of the weekend, on the ladder not many sides have moved. [The finals shake-up] is really going to come down to this round. Anything less than a bonus-point victory and you might be under a bit of pressure.”
The Waratahs, meanwhile, are likely to keep their faith in Kurtley Beale and Timana Tahu as the centres pairing on Saturday. Three backs – Lote Tuqiri, Sam Norton-Knight and Rob Horne – have joined hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau as players under injury clouds. Even if they recover in time to play the Sharks, it seems NSW selectors believe the Beale-Tahu centres combination is worth sticking with.
The availability of Tuqiri (knee), Norton-Knight (back), Horne (hamstring) and Polota-Nau (ankle) will not be known until the Waratahs’ next training session on Tuesday.
Tuqiri, who went off after 30 minutes against the Cheetahs last Friday, underwent scans on Sunday that confirmed he has sustained a partial dislocation of the knee and is still suffering from swelling.
“At this stage, we would have to make a call on Tuesday because Lote will still need time get the swelling down, and then he will need time to get start running again,” Waratahs coach Chris Hickey said.
Norton-Knight’s lower-back condition, which ruled him out of the Cheetahs game, did not improve after a day-long transfer from Bloemfontein to Durban that included two flights.
Horne, who has been out since just before the Force game with a hamstring injury, was set to undergo a fitness test on Monday after he had scans on Sunday.
However, even if he was fit to play this week, it is likely he will be put on the wing, with Peter Playford moving back to the bench.
Polota-Nau also had scans on Sunday after aggravating an ankle injury he has been carrying all season.Tweet