THERE has been much conjecture about what would be the best points scenario for the Sharks going into their match against the Cheetahs on Saturday, bearing in mind the other games in the final round of Super Rugby and the team’s position on the log, but the man literally on the ground for the Sharks, captain Keegan Daniel, says the players have the mindset of “going for broke”.
Should the Sharks beat the Free Staters, they have the tantalising prospect of playing a quarter-final against either the Crusaders in Christchurch (who surely will beat the Force in New Zealand) or the Brumbies in Canberra, the latter being a decidedly easier challenge than playing the seven-time champions on their home patch.
If the Sharks beat the Cheetahs without earning a bonus point, they will probably remain in sixth place and thus travel to Canberra, where they have already won this year.
But Daniel says it would be dangerous for the players to approach the game with an agenda in mind, because then they could lose and end up missing out altogether.
“As players, we will approach this game the same as we did against the Bulls last week: build an innings first,” the captain said.
“No matter where we are on the field, it’s not like we’re going to be thinking, ‘let’s not score another try or we might be playing the Crusaders’. Win the game first, that’s always the priority. Obviously, it’s a shorter trip to Canberra, but somewhere along the line you have to play the top teams and win away from home. Especially with our position on the log – to win this competition we will have to win away, so ultimately it is not that important who we play first.”
But before they get ahead of themselves, they must beat a side that have long been their nemesis. The Sharks’ Currie Cup and Super Rugby history is littered with the carcasses of shock defeats to the Cheetahs.
The latter have long been out of the Super Rugby play-offs, so what will they bring to the Kings Park party?
“I don’t think the Cheetahs will change their approach too much just because it’s their last game of the competition,” Daniel said. “I think we can expect the same brand of rugby they’ve played all year.
“They’ve scored some exciting tries and they have some great attacking players, so they can score from anywhere. We saw how well they played against the Hurricanes. This is another all-South African encounter between two teams who both want to dominate up front. We won that battle last weekend against the Bulls and we’ll focus on doing that again.”
The beauty of the 32-10 win over the Bulls is that the Sharks did everything they did not do in their previous match against the Lions.
“That’s the nature of sport, everyone seemed to be on the same page against the Bulls and it shows what we are capable of doing when we focus as a team,” the captain said. “In my opinion, that was one of the better, more clinical performances of the year from us. All the players put their hands up. There were a couple of exceptional performances from one or two, but you can’t say any one player didn’t have a good game.
“It was our most all-round performance this year,” Daniel added. “We did well in the set piece, and defensively we were very strong. And when we got front-foot ball, we attacked really well.”
Cheetahs starting XV: Willie le Roux, Nico Scheepers, Robert Ebersohn, Barry Geel, Philip Snyman, Riaan Smit, Piet van Zyl, Boom Prinsloo, Lappies Labuschagne, Heinrich Brussow, Izak van der Westhuizen, Andries Ferreira, WP Nel, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Hercu Liebenberg, Marcel van der Merwe, Waltie Vermeulen, Ashley Johnson, Jacques Coetzee, Sias Ebersohn, Andries Strauss.