Durban – There was a time when the Cheetahs were the Sharks’ “bogey” team, but captain Keegan Daniel reckons the psychological edge that the Free Staters enjoyed over the Durbanites is long gone.
The Cheetahs had a nasty knack of upsetting the Sharks in games in which they were the underdogs, notably in the 2009 Currie Cup semi-final at Kings Park, but the Sharks have generally had the upper hand in recent fixtures.
In fact, since 2008 the Sharks have won 10 of 12 Currie Cup games against the Cheetahs. They will, however, recall that in May the Cheetahs shocked them in a Super Rugby match in Durban, on the eve of the home team’s overseas tour.
“We’ve managed to get the better of the Cheetahs in recent years, and so while maybe a few years ago you could have referred to them as our bogey team, I don’t think that is the case any more,” Daniel said.
“In any case, past history means nothing going into Saturday’s semi-final.
“It’s now all about finals rugby, handling the pressure, capitalising on opportunities, and playing in the right areas of the field. There’s no such thing as bogey teams right now. It’s all about who executes properly on the day,” he said.
Daniel added that the Cheetahs were a transformed team now that they had strong leaders back in the side.
“Leadership makes a big difference, and so getting a guy like Adriaan Strauss back brings a lot of stability to their team,” the No 8 said.
“He leads very well and generates a lot of momentum for them. The same goes for Coenie Oosthuizen (also back from the Boks) with the way he carries the ball and brings stability to the scrum.
“So just as our front row is strong, so is theirs,” Daniel said. “They provide a threat in terms of how they use the width of the field so well, but they’ve also adapted their game from playing off 10 to playing off nine, so scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius offers a real threat around the rucks.”
Daniel said his team were far from despondent after having lost a crucial match to Western Province last week.
If they win the semi-final it is likely that they will play an away final to the same team.
“We ticked some boxes that we wanted to against Province, but when you play in those conditions the bounce of the ball or just or one or two small things can cost you the result,” he said.
“We can’t control the past, but we can put things right this weekend. We took positives out of the game. I thought we got on top in the collisions, and that was one area where we struggled against them in Cape Town.”
The Sharks will name their team today, but the expected changes are a new midfield of Francois Steyn and Louis Ludik – for Heimar Williams and Tim Whithead – while injured Jannie du Plessis is replaced by Wiehahn Herbst at tighthead, and Patrick Lambie will be at flyhalf for Fred Zeilinga.
The Cheetahs have named their team and the only change to the side that beat the Bulls last week is on the wing, where ace goal-kicker Riaan Smit has been brought in for Rayno Benjamin.