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Around this time of the Super Rugby season it starts to become more feasible to gain a grasp of the form of the various teams, and some of the competition’s front-runners start to stand out.
So far the log-leading Brumbies have certainly done that after clinically recording three successive wins, although it’s not quite as cut and dried when it comes to the Sharks, who, by their own admission, are not playing as well as they would like to be.
Despite the fact that they have also gone unbeaten over the course of their three matches so far, there is a definite feeling that the best is still to come.
Immediately after the Sharks’ hard-fought win over the Kings last Saturday, coach John Plumtree said they were determined to “unleash the demon” within as they look to get their attacking game going.
Considering the physicality and pressure that inevitably accompanies South African derbies, not to mention the humidity factor that affected the Sharks’ second-round match against the Stormers, it should not come as a surprise that a careful, conservative, considered approach has initially been adopted.
Other elements of the Sharks’ game, such as their kicking, defence and set pieces have operated efficiently, but patience has certainly been required when it has come to their success on the attacking front.
The Sharks have been steadily working their way into the competition but, like a simmering volcano, there is the hope that they will erupt into life when all the necessary factors are aligned.
It’s just another element that will add to the interest of this evening’s encounter against the Brumbies at Kings Park.
“The fact that our attack has not been functioning as we would have liked is not solely the backs’ fault,” said Plumtree this week.
“There were areas of their game that we were disappointed with last weekend, but the forwards have some responsibility in terms of how we play on attack, and they also let themselves down in certain areas.
“We have identified that and obviously we were disappointed with our attack, but we won’t dwell on it. There are other aspects of our game that are going really well.
“We’re back at home now and looking forward to playing in front of our supporters and to hopefully playing well.
“We’ll be looking to improve in certain areas, but playing rugby at this time of year in Durban is not the easiest (with the humidity), so there will still be some kicking.”
Plumtree added that they had to ensure their kicking out of hand was extremely accurate against the Brumbies.
“If we kick poorly, they have an outstanding fullback (in Jesse Mogg) who can punish us. They spend a lot of time on attack with their ball retention, and defensively they’re really well organised. They’re on top of the Aussie Conference and haven’t lost a game, so it looks like we’re playing the best Australian side so far.
“We’ve identified some South African traits in their style of play under (coach) Jake White, but we have to make sure that this is their toughest game of the year so far.”
The Brumbies’ strength was also pointed out by Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford.
“There is no doubt that the Brumbies are one of the real in-form sides at the moment,” said Bashford. “They are very well coached and everyone knows their roles in the team, so they’ll be happy with the way they’ve been going.
“They’ve got some tough clashes coming up against South African sides now but are still talking about targeting these games for victory, so it reflects the confidence in their side.”
The Sharks have a couple of changes to the team for today’s match – which are as much about freshening up the backline as about creating competition for places – with Charl McLeod and Odwa Ndungane set to add extra experience to the starting line-up.
“We’ve got really good depth in our squad and there haven’t been too many changes in our three games so far, so we felt this was the right time to give a couple of guys an opportunity,” Bashford said.
“We are determined to get our game back on track, but the thing is we have to consider the conditions we might face, so you can’t just go for an all-out attack. We do want to be a little bit more accurate in a number of areas and take the opportunities that present themselves.”
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Keegan Daniel (capt), 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Fotu Auelua, 7 George Smith, 6 Ben Mowen (capt), 5 Sam Carter, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio. Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Scott Fardy, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Clyde Rathbone. – Independent on Saturday