Against a Chiefs side ravaged by injury and withdrawals, expect the Sharks to confound the nay-sayers and run out comfortable victors. That’s right, fans – my colours have been firmly nailed to the mast. The Sharks will win this one by ten points or more.
The home side has been given a timely boost by the ruling that Willem Alberts is, in fact, not still a Lions player. As such, the burly loose forward has been cleared to take his place in a squad that, certainly up front, has the fire-power to keep the Hamilton lads in reverse gear all day. Outside of the dynamic Aled de Malmanche, the Chiefs tight five has somewhat of a “journeyman” feel to it. The withdrawal of Sione Lauaki has robbed them of their primary strike weapon in the pack and although they too have packed their bench with forwards (there’s a full front row on there) one can’t see them living with the Sharks for 80 minutes, especially when Gerhard Mostert and Alberts come on to increase the physical intensity in the second half.
It’s amongst the halfbacks that the Chiefs would appear to have a distinct advantage. Brendan Leonard and Stephen Donald are both All Blacks, while the Sharks flyhalf shenanigans this week can hardly have made for a smooth build-up. I have a funny feeling, though, that Rory Kockott is going to put in one of those special performances tomorrow and show us exactly why he was so highly rated back in 2008. Monty Dumond is nowhere near as bad a pivot as some would have you believe either and I’m sure that, together with Andries Strauss, he’ll make good use of the surfeit of possession that the forwards provide.
Richard Kahui and Sitiveni Sivivatu are the real dangermen in the Chiefs outside back division and Waylon Murray, together with the Sharks wingers, are certainly going to have their work cut out for them. Sivivatu has never really got the better of Odwa Ndungane in any game that I’ve yet watched, though, so let’s hope that the status quo continues this weekend. In fact, you have to go pretty far back in history to find an away win over the Sharks for the Hamilton boys and that kind of record is the sort of thing that will weigh on the players’ minds, no matter how many times they try to deny it.
For the Sharks, we need big performances from virtually all the guys in the packs, with John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis and Johann Muller, in particular, all due a really top game. Ryan Kankowski is another who really needs to step back up to the heights he reached in 2008, while Dumond and Strauss will need to prove beyond all doubt that they belong at this level. Ruan Pienaar and Adi Jacobs both have a superb opportunity to stake their claims for places in the starting lineup next week and will hopefully both come into their own as the game opens up in the second half. Craig Burden is another who should do well if the game gets a little looser heading into the final quarter.
It may not be pretty at times, but the Sharks have the muscle to win this one comfortably, provided they play sensibly. They need to keep it tight and let the forwards do the work, at least initially. Trying to play silly buggers in our own half will be suicide, as will kicking the ball down the throats of the Chiefs backs 3. The same sort of pressure game that the Boks employed against the All Blacks in the Tri-Nations should work pretty well and with the refs now favouring the attacking team, provided we can stay in the Chiefs half with our hands on the ball, Kockott’s boot should be able to build up enough of a buffer to allow us to play more adventurously in the last half hour.
Sharks forever! Let’s do this thing.Tweet