Veteran Shark Odwa Ndungane says the euphoria of thumping the Cheetahs by 50 points last week lasted until Monday’s training session when the magnitude of the challenge of beating the Lions at Ellis Park this week settled in.
The former Springbok wing has been around the block a few times and he says he knows a highly dangerous team when he sees one. The Bulls would agree. They were soundly beaten in Johannesburg at the weekend after having conceded 60 points to the same team in a first-round blow-out in Pretoria.
“You can see that they are a happy group and that they play for their coaches,” Ndungane said. “Johan Ackermann (head coach) and Swys de Bruin (assistant coach) are popular guys. I played with Ackies here at the Sharks and he is a salt-of-the-earth bloke. Swys, we obviously know well from the long time he was with us coaching various age group teams and the Wildebeest.
“They make a good coaching team and are the kind of guys who will instil a lot of confidence, and I don’t think they put pressure on the players,” Ndungane continued. “As you can see, the Lions are playing with so much confidence and freedom. The coaches are allowing the natural talent to come through from the players and that’s great for the Lions as a union.”
The Lions also have the incentive of finishing in home semi-final territory if they win their final three games, starting with a win over a Sharks team that beat them 33-25 in Durban in the second game of the competition.
“At the best of times it is hard to beat them at Ellis Park. We have lost there a few times in recent seasons,” Ndungane said. “And this is one of the better Lions teams. They have had some nice results of late and are oozing self-belief.”
Last week, the Lions ran the Bulls off their feet, and the Sharks can expect similar treatment.
“We know our defence is going to be seriously tested,” the 32-year-old said. “They like to run from their own 22, so you cannot afford to be slack on defence because they’re not just going to kick the ball away. So we have to have our defensive structure spot-on and make sure we stick to the system. Hopefully we can keep them out.”
Much will depend on whether the Sharks forwards can repeat their dominant display of last week against the Cheetahs, which resulted in the backs scoring six of the seven tries.
“It was a pleasure to be a back in that game,” Ndungane said. “Our forwards played really well and gave us a lot of forward dominance. From one to eight, all of them played out of their skins and the guys that came on also had a huge impact. That’s where it starts (up front) and it makes it so much easier for us backs.”
l The spotlight will shine on Schalk Burger when he returns to action in Friday’s Currie Cup clash between the Free State Cheetahs and Western Province in Bloemfontein, reports Sapa.
The fiery flanker was named as a substitute in the Western Province 22-man squad to do duty at the Free State Stadium.
“Almost two years have passed and Schalk has gone through a lot (injury complications and illness),” head coach Allister Coetzee said yesterday.
“He has come through training very well and his inclusion in the squad is part of his comeback process. I think he can play for more than 20 minutes but we’re not sure at what stage of the match he’ll run out.
“We don’t expect him to be at his best and merely having him around the players brings out his positive influence.
“It’s just good to have him back and he’ll feel like a new player when he comes on to play.”
Western Province: Gio Aplon; Gerhard van den Heever, Michael van der Spuy, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt Coleman, Nic Groom, Nizaam Carr, Michael Rhodes, Deon Fourie (capt), De Kock Steenkamp, Taz Fuzani, Pat Cilliers, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Michael Willemse, Brok Harris, Gerbrandt Grobler, Schalk Burger, Josh Katzen, Louis Schreuder, Demetri Catrakilis. - The Star