Durban – It will come as no surprise to the Sharks that the Cheetahs are coming to Durban for Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final with the scent of an upset in their flared nostrils.
The Free Staters were tipped to lose by seven points or more by the bookies, including Marshall’s World of Sport, and this suited the Cheetahs down to the ground, coach Naka Drotske told The Mercury on Thursday from Bloemfontein.
“Of course we are the underdogs. There are 10 Springboks in the Sharks team and they are playing at home, but we know that if we play to our Super Rugby form, we can beat them. We did it a few months ago (in a Super Rugby match at Kings Park),” Drotske said.
He said his team were in an ideal position to sneak in the back door and snatch the spoils in a game that the Sharks are expected to win.
“We are very excited about this game,” he said.
“The whole mindset of our team has changed after what has been a long, hard slog for us this season.
“We don’t have the luxury of depth that the bigger unions have, and most of our players have had to play every single Super Rugby and Currie Cup game. It was unavoidable that we were going to have some dips in form.
“But that is all behind us now. We are into finals rugby and the players are rejuvenated in spirit,” Drotske said.
“Our approach is that we have nothing to lose and a huge amount to gain. The guys are talking about going down to Durban and doing something special, and they take heart from the fact that we have done it before.”
While the Sharks have almost routinely beaten the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup in recent seasons, there have been aberrations, including a Cheetahs win in the 2009 Currie Cup semi-final at Kings Park and that shock Super Rugby win earlier this season.
“The main thing is that the guys realise it is going to be extremely tough to pull off a dream win, but at the same time the belief is there,” Drotske said.
“In our Super Rugby campaign we felt we could win anywhere if we played to our potential, and we managed some great wins.”
Indeed, the Cheetahs finished in the top six and qualified for the play-offs for the first time in their history. But then came the form slump in the first half of the Currie Cup.
“Guys like Hennie Daniller, Robert Ebersohn, Lappies Labuschagne, Philip van der Walt and Lood de Jager have had no break,” Drotske said.
“We just don’t have the option of a rotation policy, and it was inevitable that we would go off the boil.
“But we are back on track and have been revitalised by the return of strong characters in Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen (from Springbok duty).”
The long-serving Free State coach said that the weight of expectation on the Sharks to make their fourth consecutive Currie Cup final was a hindrance his team did not have.
“You would rather have home ground advantage than play away, of course, but with it comes the pressure to make that advantage count,” he said.
“We come to Durban with nothing more than a desire to create history. Nobody is expecting us to win, so we have no distractions and can simply give it a full go.”
Earlier in the week the weather forecast predicted rain for tomorrow evening, but the latest update suggests that the inclement weather could hold off for the match.
“We would prefer dry conditions, but if it rains we are not going to be stupid with our tactics,” Droske said.
“When we beat the Sharks in May, it rained, and our kicking game was spot-on.” The coach said he had been surprised by the selection of a new Sharks midfield for the game, but understood the reasoning behind bringing back Francois Steyn (from a five-month injury lay-off) and the experienced Louis Ludik.
“It is a risk to play a brand new midfield, but I understand the mindset of wanting to field a world-class player like Steyn,” he said.
“It is the same with us bringing back (former Springbok flyhalf) Johan Goosen from a long injury break (he is on the bench). You want your best players for these big games.
“Having said that, it will be hard for them (Steyn and Ludik) to immediately click and we have a midfield who have played together virtually every game this season.”