The Sharks have all the resources to comfortably beat the Highlanders at Carisbrook this weekend, (actually when I think about it, I don’t think one Highlander would make the Sharks starting XV). That coupled with the hosts flight home, after an gruelling away leg in the Republic, makes the home side there for the taking.
However the Highlanders often prove difficult opposition for many of their more illustrious opponents.
After a lifetime of watching the Highlanders win and lose, it slowly becomes obvious early in a match if the opposition have the Highlanders number (or not).
Getting your game plan right is paramount to beating any side, and this weekends Highlanders are no exception. Sometimes sides come to Dunedin having done little analysis on the men from the deep south. Many a side, often spend too long hammering away at a prototype game plan, before they realise it’s not working. Consequently time and often the game is slipping away.
Back to the game plan. Many a visiting side spends too much time smashing away up front, in the tight exchanges and in one off the ruck collisions against the Highlanders. Trying over and over again to lay a so called foundation or platform up front. Trying to as the commentators say ‘earn the right to go wide’. However when it comes to the static exchanges, such as scrum and lineout time and the very tight exchanges in and around the ruck, you will often find the Highlanders surprisingly very comfortable. The Highlanders then often wait for the opposition to all of a sudden go to a ‘fifteen man game’ spreading it from one side of the field to the other. This is also where you find the Highlanders comfortable. These two extremities of approach both seem to sit well with the ‘Southerners’…as if they almost anticipate it.
IMO the sides that dominate the Highlanders are those that run over the top of them in the middle of the park. Crash ball through the middle of the park, through strong centres, then moving it again, not one but two or slightly wider of the initial contact zone. The Sharks need to get some go forward in the middle of the park, then bring their world class forwards into carrying action not one, but two off the ruck. The Highlanders lightweight midfield and smaller loose forwards always find it harder to contain sides when this is happening. However go too wide then often the Highlanders quicker, smaller loose forwards are in the game, but play too close to the ruck and the big tight five are well up for a battle they think they can win.
The Highlanders are difficult to play against because they are able unlike a lot of sides in the Super 14, too dictate the tempo of a game. They very effectively work out if they have the measure of the opposition front 5, and if they smell blood they are able to scrummage and maul and keep the ball up the jumper. However, it is also well in their repertoire to open it up and play high tempo rugby, from which they are well capable of striking from deep.
I feel against the Sharks they may try and run them (Sharks) off their feet. Setting their contact targets wide and will try and stretch the capable Sharks loose forward trio. On top of that they will run hard and most importantly straight in midfield. Attempting to create genuine space out wide, for their back three on attack. In so doing they will try and put genuine width on the game. They will back their ability to put quick phases together, play at a higher tempo and with more continuity than the Sharks. If the Sharks infringe in slowing it down they will cry foul. Sharks fans, brace yourselves for this call – ‘expect no favours from the officials’. They will back their passing skills, depth of running, fitness and hands over the Sharks. They will be hoping the Sharks especially the Sharks loose forward trio buy into a similar game plan. If they do, the Highlanders I think may just edge a close one. If the Sharks can live with the Highlanders in the first half, then the Southerners have to tire in the second forty, but don’t expect them to disintegrate.
It won’t be easy for the Sharks but they have the class and experience to play what is in front of them, and not stick blindly to a game plan that may not be working on the day.
Good luck Sharks….but hey not too much luck !Tweet