A strange thought occurred to me on Sunday morning, one that I probably should have had a while ago. We’ve been so obsessed with semi-final permutations and with hoping against hope that the Sharks would be able to finish in top spot, that we haven’t really focused much on what happens next. Have the Sharks really secured themselves an easier run-in to the final?
As it turns out, running up a big score against Griquas wasn’t actually completely necessary and I, for one, would quite gladly hand back one of our tries – the one in which Bismarck du Plessis busted his ribs. Had we scored just one try fewer, we may also have found ourselves winning by somewhat fewer than the 15 points that we did and maybe, just maybe, we might find ourselves preparing for a game against Griquas this weekend – instead of the Cheetahs.
Fact is, for all the Bulls’ plethora of talent and despite the sheer breathtakingness of some of the tries the Sharks scored, it is the Cheetahs who are the form side going into the semis. Having to pick which of the up-country sides you’d rather face is a bit of a Hobson’s choice. The likely scenario, from a Sharks perspective, is that all we’ve done now is select which of them we’re going to play first.
Injuries to Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira didn’t help the cause at all and hindsight being a perfect science, it may have made sense not to risk them against Griquas. Then again, how could you not field your strongest side in a game that had so much riding on its outcome? Craig Burden, so strong in the loose, again got a number of his lineouts horribly wrong and against a team like the Cheetahs, who are a superbly drilled outfit in this phase of the game, it’s going to be a huge risk playing him. Deon Carstens is Mtawarira’s equal at scrumtime, but faced with the same choices going into this week’s semifinal, I’d be handing John Smit the number 2 jersey this week.
There’s a part of me that wants to feel confident, given that we’ve already beaten the Cheetahs twice this year with far weaker teams than the one we’ll field on Saturday. The way that Alistair Hargreaves and Mike Rhodes came to the party against Griquas fills me with more confidence still and provided Plumtree gets his pack right, we could enjoy ascendancy against the Free Staters at the breakdown through sheer force of numbers, Hein Brüssow notwithstanding. The Sharks backs are looking good as well, with Adi Jacobs turning in a masterful performance in Kimberley, while Riaan Swanepoel showed his class too. The Sharks should, with the emphasis on the should, have too much class for the Cheetahs this weekend.
The biggest question, though – the gamble that Plumtree will need to take – is which gameplan the Sharks should use. The conservative one that has seen them win many games in the past, although often by the skin of their teeth? Or the high-risk, attack-from-anywhere one that results in plenty of tries for, yet alarmingly also a fair few against?
Hold on to your seats, folks. It’s going to be a hell of a week!Tweet