DURBAN – Having felt exactly what it is like to have their resources spread over two competitions, the Sharks have said that they won’t be disrespecting the Cheetahs today at 4:15 pm at Kings Park.
At the beginning of the Currie Cup, it was the Sharks who were welcomed to Bloemfontein with their top players a little further up the road in Johannesburg, contesting a Super Rugby quarter-final.
The result was an absolute hammering as the defending champions, with their near Super Rugby line-up, took apart the ‘B side’ Sharks 47-12.
It is a total role reversal this weekend as the Cheetahs travel to Durban with a hugely inexperienced squad as their 28 best players are in Ireland this weekend, breaking ground in an historic Pro 14 match against Ulster.
This is a top-of-the-table Currie Cup clash, and in years gone by, a game of this magnitude would be the talk of the town. But, unfortunately, the Currie Cup has been stripped of all its prestige by the powers-that-be.
Poor scheduling from Saru has seen the Lions face this same dilemma of two competitions running simultaneously.
It has also cost the Sharks a chance at being undefeated, with that first game a total write off. And now, the actions of Sanzaar, going back on their Super Rugby expansion, has not only necessitated a massive move for the Cheetahs, but also subversively damaged the Currie Cup further.
Nevertheless, the game will go on, and the Sharks will be clear favourites, but coach Robert du Preez is not being lulled into thinking it will be a cakewalk of a weekend.
“First and foremost, we will not disrespect the Cheetahs, whatever team they put on the park,” Du Preez said earnestly. “That is very important, and secondly we must concentrate on what we must do to improve our game and consolidate momentum.
“We must look after ourselves because we have so much to improve on. We have to improve our patience in our 22, an area of ongoing concern all season. We continue to create a lot of opportunities which we do not convert, so that is very important for us.”
Captain Ruan Botha is also focusing on his own team’s game, rather than what the opposition can offer. But he admits that the Sharks are in a good place because of their recent run of five straight wins.
“Winning a few games in a row makes it a lot easier, and the guys are starting to believe that a home semi, and a home final, is in sight,” Botha said.
“We are still taking each game step by step, but like the coach says, we don’t want to underestimate the Cheetahs. It does not matter what side they send, we are out there to play our own game.”
The Sharks have made a few changes - most of them necessary as College Rovers flyer Tythan Adams gets a shot with Kobus van Wyk and Odwa Ndungane both out with injuries.
In the forwards there is a new-look front row as Ross Geldenhuys is rested, Akker van der Merwe is given a shot to start, and Thomas du Toit returns from injury.
Keegan Daniel is also back from injury which sees Tyler Paul back in at lock for Jean Droste.