Sharks know what to expect in United Rugby Championship opener against Munster
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As is the case with anything new, there are unquantifiable unknowns, undetermined parameters and undefined limits in understanding and comprehension.
For those who have not been following the Cheetahs and Kings in their now concluded jaunts of Europe’ rugby fields, this is arguably an inescapable truth. The Sharks, however, have a fairly solid idea of what to expect when the play Munster on Saturday (kick-off 8.35pm) in their opening match of the United Rugby Championship.
“Munster have been very successful over the last number of years,” said Sharks attack coach Noel McNamara in a media briefing on Tuesday.
“They’ve got a settled coaching team, obviously they have a South African coach in Johann van Graan. Stephen Larkham, Graham Rowntree and JP Ferreira have been there for the last couple of years. They have been really consistent.
“They are a momentum team and when they get that momentum, they are very difficult to stop. They are going to present a lot of challenges for us. There is absolutely no doubt in our minds about that.”
Last week, while speaking to Independent Media, a number of Irish players presented their hypotheses that, just like South African rugby, the provincial approach in the region hinged on a forward-dominated gameplan. By controlling the exchanges up-front, they postulated, the possibility of unleashing their backlines became possible.
It is an assessment that Springbok prop Thomas du Toit agrees with.
“That is definitely a big trait we have seen over the years,” said the 26-year-old, after which he added that the Irish franchises kicking game is not too shabby either.
“All Irish sides are physical but that doesn’t mean that South African are now less physical sides. It is definitely is still going to be proper rugby games with physicality being front and centre.
“Munster is a side that have a good kicking game and they will play in the right areas and when they need to use the ball and put it through phases, they can do that. The big challenge for us is stopping that and doing it a few times throughout the game as need be.”
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According to McNamara, the Red Army loves nothing more than reigning supreme at the breakdown and turning over possession by using highly mobile and powerful forwards.
Said McNamara: “Munster have a high turnover rate and they have a number of chaps who are very strong over the ball. You look at Tadhg Beirne specifically, and when CJ Stander was there, they are ready to tread over the ball and they’ve got other guys as well.
“When you play those jackal-based teams, you have to be on point at the ruck and that is something that we are acutely conscious of. Last season, in the Rainbow Cup, they were averaging seven turnovers per game, so that tells its own story. We have got to be accurate in that area.
“Thomas has already mentioned the kicking, and they have a variety of kickers. They have brought back another one in Simon Zebo; a left-footed kicker from 15; they’ve got Rory Scannell in midfield, a left-footed kicker as well from 12; (scrumhalf) Craig Casey, and obviously Joey Carbery and Ben Healy (both flyhalves) as well. You can’t just shut down one player, you have got to be prepared for a multiple kicking game.”
McNamara also revealed that all the Sharks players are in fine-fettle and that there are no real injury concerns. The team announcement is expected later this week.