The Sharks have too much class – on paper – for the Cheetahs to pose any realistic threat on Friday evening. Problem is, the game of rugby is played on grass and we’ve seen the Durban boys come nastily unstuck against their less illustrious Bloemfontein cousins far too many times for there to be any hint of complacency this time around.
If anything, the two unexpected Cheetahs victories over the Sharks last year should work more in the home side’s favour, as they won’t be underestimating the opposition this time around – nor will they be short on motivation. A number of pretty shrewd selections on the Sharks side have resulted in a far stronger-looking outfit than the one that came unstuck against the Chiefs, despite the injury-enforced absence of some beef in the second row. Call it rotation if you like, but there’s probably little coincidence that the three players most obviously “dropped” from the team – Bismarck du Plessis, Monty Dumond and Andries Strauss – where the ones who did the least against the Chiefs,
The battle up front is going to be a titanic one. The Sharks have the more experienced individuals, for the most part, with three Boks in the front row and two in the back row. Locks Steven Sykes and Alistair Hargreaves are both almost there, with the former having sat on the bench and the latter played for the midweek team. The Cheetahs have fewer out-and-out stars, but appear to be the better coached outfit, both in the scrums and the loose. The difference, as so often, may well be the bench, with the Sharks boasting a pair of Boks in du Plessis and Deon Carstens, along with stalwarts in Keegan Daniel and big Willem Alberts. The Cheetahs have Ashley Johnson and the precocious Coenie “Shrek” Oosthuizen, but the other bench forwards are journeymen – and none more so reserve hooker than Ryno Barnes.
Jean Deysel and Juan Smith will wage their own private war out there, of that you can be sure, while the contest at openside will also prove fascinating. Last week, Heinrich Brussow found that many of his oldest tricks aren’t going to wash under the new laws and Jacques Botes will be keen to show that his more “ball-in-hand” approach to the openside role may be the way forward. He’ll also be keen to prove that he’s over his pre-season niggle and nowhere near the end of the road, despite his age!
Once again, if we look at the names on paper, the Sharks have all the pedigree at 9, 10 and 12, whereas the Cheetahs have all the consistency. While the combination of Rory Kockott, Ruan Pienaar and Adi Jacobs should always make Tewis de Bruyn, Naas Olivier and Meyer Bosman look average, there are so many “other factors” at play in the Sharks setup right now that betting your house on the former three coming off as we know they can would most likely guarantee a one-way trip to the homeless shelter. Should the Cheetahs have the upper hand in the forward exchanges – which they may well do – they might just find that a pair of hard runners like Bosman and new outside centre Lionel Mapoe could make plenty of progress running at the gap between Pienaar and Jacobs. While right wing Danwel Demas is not really up to it at this level, Jongi Nokwe has more than enough gas and guile to make Odwa Ndungane look older and slower than he already is and the Sharks would do well to bear that in mind when kicking the ball down field. That said, I’d back JP Pietersen to smoke Demas pretty easily if the situation were reversed.
Ironically, it’s in the backs that the Sharks don’t have too many exciting options in reserve and the Cheetahs will be hoping that the electric Sarel Pretorius, in particular, can add something special, sniping around the fringes as the defence starts to tire.
So, what do I think will happen? Hard to say, because we don’t know which Sharks team is going to pitch up. I’m going to stay positive, though and back the Durban boys to put in a showing at least a little worthy of their great potential – on paper! Sharks to take his one by 6 points.
Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Adrian Jacobs, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Willem Alberts, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Monty Dumond, 22 Andries Strauss.
Cheetahs: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Danwel Demas, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Frans Viljoen, 7 Juan Smith (captain), 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 David de Villiers, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Hennie Daniller.