The Sharks, sitting pretty on top of the Currie Cup log with 46 points, require only 8 more log points to ensure that they occupy the same lofty position at the end of the regular season.
Their closest competition, Western Province, are 8 points further back in second place and, assuming they manage maximum log pints from their remaining three fixtures, can finish with at most 53 points. The Blue Bulls, Cheetahs and Lions can get to 48, 47 and 46 respectively, leaving the Sharks all but assured of a home semi-final.
The Sharks have three games remaining and while the team will be sure to take nothing for granted in the following weeks, the simplest of those fixture is the home game against the Leopards next weekend, one which really should yield 5 points without too much hassle. The Leopards have failed to record a single win so far this season and have regularly conceded 4-try bonus points to the big sides, particularly when playing away from home. Banking those points puts the Sharks on 51, ahead of the potential maximum haul of any side other than Province.
That leaves just three further points for the Sharks to find somewhere in the other two games; making that task a lot trickier, though, is the fact that both games are away, against big opposition. The worst-case scenario (Province picking up maximum points from all fixtures) will, of course, depend on them beating the Sharks with a bonus point in the final league game – something the Sharks will be going all-out to avoid. For the Durbanites, though, it would be infinitely preferable if they could head down to that clash in the Cape with first place already sewn up. That scenario would give the Sharks LOTS of options in terms of team selection, player rotation and so on and is surely the one that Plumtree and co would prefer.
The implication is that a victory against the Lions in this weekend’s match is not negotiable, since the Sharks need 3 points at a minimum from the game. Since 4 points are (practically) a lot easier to achieve then 3 (a draw with 4 tries), you can bet that the side will be going all out for the win. The real risk here is that the Sharks, in trying to secure a win by any means, ma be tempted to play a more conservative style of rugby and that, I feel, is something that will backfire against the revitalised Lions. Make no mistake, the intense rivalry between these two sides, made keener by some recent high-profile player swaps and the fact that the respective coaches have a long history, will ensure that the Lions lack no motivation. They will be hurting after losing narrowly to the Bulls at Loftus and will need to beat the Sharks to set up a meaningful “quarter final” clash against the Cheetahs the following week.
As the Sharks found out in the first round of matches, the way to properly beat the Lions is to keep attacking and keep piling on the points. You cannot hope to build a lead and then sit on it, because John Mitchell’s team have shown that they have the attacking ability to wipe out even relatively large margins reasonably rapidly. The Sharks need to be mindful of this and ensure that they do not take their foot off the gas at any stage until the 80 minutes have elapsed and the Lions are properly buried.
It’s a case of one final hurdle to clear, before two relatively easy weeks in which to recuperate ahead of the play-offs.Tweet