DURBAN – The Sharks are gearing up for what coach Robert du Preez describes as a Currie Cup “quarter-final” against Western Province at Kings Park on Saturday (3pm), with all the attendant focus that goes with a do-or-die match.
It is the last round of the Currie Cup before next week’s semi-finals and with the Sharks having won 10 in a row to top the log, the wary Du Preez is taking no chances as the competition winds up to crunch time.
He wants 11 out of 11 before the home semi-final next week.
“This game is really important and we are giving it playoff status,” Du Preez said.
“Of course we want to have momentum going into the semis, and you always have to be careful when you are coming back from a break. Post-bye games often pose a challenge for teams,” he said.
“We have had a bit of disruptive week. The storm on Tuesday took care of training, but we had a fantastic session today (Thursday),” he added. “We will be ready come game time.”
The coach has made just one change to the side that beat the Lions two weeks ago in Durban ahead of last week’s bye, with Lukhanyo Am – finally over injury – resuming at outside centre. Tristan Blewett drops to the bench.
“We are very pleased to have the guys back from the Boks, and we want to play them off the bench, which means the guys that did well against the Lions have another opportunity to start and the returning Boks will then be involved in the second half,” the coach said.
“I have always said it will require a solid squad effort if we are to have a chance of winning the competition, and I think we have achieved that.”
Du Preez said that with most of the squad having game time tomorrow, he would be in a good position to pick the best starting line-up for next week’s semi-final.
It means a powerful bench that thus includes Chiliboy Ralepelle, Jean-Luc du Preez and Louis Schreuder, as well as wing Kobus van Wyk who, like Am, is over injury.
The return of Ralepelle and the starting berth for Franco Marais means there is no place for former Lions hooker Akker van der Merwe in the squad, an indication of the quality of depth the Sharks have in some positions.
Province have plenty riding on the game – an upset win will secure them a home semi-final – and Du Preez says the Sharks are preparing accordingly.
“They are getting guys back from the Boks (tighthead Wilco Louw and wing Dillyn Leyds) and will be coming to play they some serious rugby,” Du Preez said.
“It will be a big team effort from them. They like to attack out wide, so our defence will have to very strong.”
Province have also shown that they have one of the better scrums in the Currie Cup and made a point against the Lions in their match in Johannesburg last week.
“They have been scrumming really well. I think the set scrums are going to be hotly contested,” Du Preez agreed.
“And Wilco will give them an added boost. I think the set-pieces are going to be a big battle. Both packs have been going well.”
15 Garth April, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Sbu Nkosi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Bench: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Jean Droste, 19 Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Tristan Blewett, 22 Kobus van Wyk.