DURBAN - South African rugby will enter uncharted waters this weekend when a full-strength Cheetahs team plays Ulster in a PRO14 debut in Belfast on Friday, while their “C” team watches from a Durban hotel room before playing the Sharks in a Currie Cup Premier Division match at Kings Park the next day.
What a mess. Well done, Sanzaar. Well done, Saru. Is this type of Premier Division Currie Cup fixture a mortal blow for the 127-year-old Cup, so long the coveted trophy in South African rugby?
The reality is that the Cheetahs have taken their best 28 players on tour to the North for two matches - against Ulster and then Limerick giants Munster - in what was the PRO12, before the Kings and Cheetahs were added after being cut from Super Rugby.
Can the Currie Cup be further emasculated? Interestingly, the kick-off time for the Sharks match against the Cheetahs at Kings Park has been brought forward to 4.15pm so that nationwide viewers can watch the Kings play the Scarlets (from Llanelli in Wales) later in the evening.
The Sharks are not sure what to make of it all... is anyone? And all they can do is look after their side of the fence, so to speak, and what happens in the match against the severely under-strength Cheetahs happens.
Sharks defence coach Ryan Strudwick said: “All we know is that they sent a squad of 28 to Belfast, so the team we will play will be under-strength, let’s be honest.
“Their Under-21s are not playing, so perhaps they will pick a number of their future stars.”
Former Cheetahs centre and long-time Cheetahs assistant coach MJ Smith is coaching the Currie Cup team for this match and he must be wondering how the heck to deal with a Sharks team that has been unbeaten in five matches and will be hell bent on nailing as many points as possible to boost their points average at the top of the log (they surely will win to top of the log at the expense of the current leaders, the Cheetahs).
“It is a curious situation but all we can do is concentrate on getting things right in areas where we have been poor and then be ruthless and clinical,” Strudwick said.
“There can be no soft tries conceded and we must show patience and efficiency in scoring as many as we can.”
Strudwick said the Sharks’ coaching staff were nonplussed as what to expect from Smith’s team on Saturday.
“Are they going to come up and try play defensively (to keep the score respectable), or will they throw caution to the wind and attack with everything they have to try and score four tries and get a bonus point out of the match?” Strudwick wondered.
What the Sharks will do is rest players that are carrying niggles and give opportunities to fringe players. The Sharks know they are going to win and this is the perfect opportunity to rest players that need it.
“The timing of the Cheetahs having a weekend double-header (in two different competitions) suits us because we meet them in the Currie Cup in the week that they will be at their weakest, and we must exploit this to go top of the log (and secure a strong advantage in terms of ‘points scored for and against’,” Strudwick said.
“We then have tough Friday away games against the Griquas and Pumas, and we will be flying in on the day and out again for those matches, and we all know how tricky those games can be if the home side is up for it, which they invariably are.”
Saturday’s match could amount to little more than a training run for the Sharks and while Strudwick would not admit as much, it will be the case, and the Sharks will be doing their utmost to get better at converting territory and possession into points.
They had 70 percent domination in both of those areas against a full-strength WP team last week but almost lost the match, only taking the lead in the 75th minute to win 21-20.