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THE Sharks will be fighting to keep their play-off hopes alive when they square up against the Stormers in Durban on Saturday night and Robbie Fleck says that means they’ll come out guns blazing.
“The Sharks have got a point to prove and they’re going to come out absolutely firing,” the Stormers attack coach told the Cape Argus.
“This is a must-win game for them – if they lose they fall even further behind us and the Bulls.”
As things stand, the Sharks are in sixth place with 41 points, trailing the fourth-placed Bulls by six points and the log-leading Stormers by eight. However, of the top three teams in the South African conference, the Sharks are the only one with a bye in hand, which effectively reduces their deficit by four log points.
While Fleck admits that this casts the Stormers’ coastal rivals in a better light, the former Springbok centre believes another loss against a conference rival will sink the Sharks’ hopes of reaching the play-offs.
“They’re only four behind us because of the comfort of the bye,” he said. “But if they lose this week, they effectively fall eight or nine points behind, and that’s tough because they still have to play the Lions (June 2) and Bulls (July 7).
“There’s a helluva lot at stake for both sides. They’re going to throw absolutely everything into this one because if we do get the win we will put huge pressure on the Sharks and Bulls.”
The Stormers yesterday moved Gio Aplon from the wing to fullback in place of the injured Joe Pietersen, with Gerhard van den Heever coming onto the wing in the only changes to the side that beat the Waratahs last week.
Injuries to key players put the Sharks under pressure in the first half of the Super 15 season. Without the services of heavies Beast Mtawarira, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Ryan Kankowski, the Sharks lost five of their first nine matches.
But the recovery of these players has coincided with a resurgence in Durban, as all of the Highlanders, Western Force and Cheetahs have fallen prey to the Sharks in quick succession.
And Fleck is only too aware of the physical threat posed by a reinforced Sharks team with its back against the wall. “Their philosophy is to play a massive momentum-based game and keep the ball alive.
Their natural instinct is to play rugby and it works for them. I don’t think the Sharks will move too far away from their strengths, which is to be physical up front and release exciting backs like JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo and Paul Jordaan out wide.
The Sharks have failed to score a single try against the Stormers since 2010 as they’ve slumped to three consecutive losses in those matches.
“They’re a great attacking side, but we’re a great defensive side,” he said.
For more, see pages 46 & 47