DURBAN – Sharks captain Louis Schreuder is wary of the challenge the underrated Golden Lions will pose in tomorrow’s Currie Cup semi-final at Kings Park, and he is right on the money.
The Lions are indeed much better than their record in the pool games suggests, and their knowledge of how to play the big games is an understated advantage.
They have Warren Whiteley back at No 8 to steady the ship and while they did not in the end secure the services of Malcolm Marx and Franco Mostert, they have a seriously dangerous backline marshalled by the Springbok axis of Elton Jantjies and Ross Cronje.
They are also energised by Bok star Aphiwe Dyantyi, and underpinned by experienced former Boks in Lionel Mapoe and Courtnall Skosan.
The best way to thwart that lethal combination is to cut it off at the source and to that end the Sharks have the pack to do just that and pave the way for victory.
When the teams met in Durban four weeks ago, the Sharks bullied a similar Lions pack, and coach Robert du Preez will be calling for more of the same.
While the Lions will look to attack wherever possible, expect the Sharks to aim for forward domination allied to the prodigious boots of flyhalf Robert du Preez and fullback Curwin Bosch, with the territory game their top priority.
“The Lions are a very dangerous team, they will be in a good space mentally and we certainly don’t think they are written off,” said Schreuder. “We have already played the Lions four times this year, so we know exactly what they are all about.
“Our (27-21) win over them last month is in the past. This is a new game, a huge playoff, and they have so much experience of playing these big games, be it Super Rugby or Currie Cup.”
But the Sharks will be up for the challenge. They know their union is desperately in need of silverware and the pressure is on after the disappointment of losing in the final to Western Province last year.
“You would definitely say there has been something in the air in our camp this week,” Schreuder said of the elevation in urgency now that the playoffs have arrived.
“There is a nice energy about everybody, I saw it when I walked in this morning... there is tension, which is to be expected, but also excitement and confidence.”
Schreuder continues as captain because regular captain Chiliboy Ralepelle is once more on the bench after a rotation with Akker van der Merwe for last week’s match against Griquas. Van der Merwe played so well that it would have been unfair to drop him this week.
Other tough choices saw Thomas du Toit preferred to Coenie Oosthuizen at tighthead and Jacques Vermeulen keeping his position on the flank despite Jean-Luc du Preez making his comeback from injury last week.
“It was probably the most difficult selection meeting we have had in the last two years,” coach Du Preez said. “There was a lot of debate around the loose trio but we felt that the combination that has played so well over the last five weeks deserved to continue. Jean-Luc played well for us off the bench last week, so we are happy to carry on with that.
“It was a tough call at tighthead ..., we are just very fortunate that we have two very good tightheads. The same at hooker. We just felt that Akker played very well and that he will be really up to play against his old team.”
The Sharks team is:
15 Curwin Bosch, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Juan Schoeman
16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Luke Stringer, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Leolin Zas, 23 Aphelele Fassi
The Golden Lions team is:
15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom (c), 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Pikkie de Villiers, 6 James Venter, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Sti Sithole.
16 Tiaan van der Merwe, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Chergin Fillies, 19 Vincent Tshituka, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Shaun Reynolds, 23 Wandisile Simelane