Lukhanyo Am will start at outside centre against the Lions. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix
DURBAN - For all the talk of who might be playing who in the Super Rugby quarter-finals next week, it will be a case of permutations be damned when the whistle blows for the start of the Sharks’ game against the Lions on Saturday at Kings Park.

Instead it will be a case of war is declared. Both sides have made it very clear that they are going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at each other in this last opportunity to establish battle sharpness before the play-offs.

Some would say the Lions are already the finished article but they will know that their last outing was against an under-strength Sunwolves team that barely tackled in their 94-7 capitulation.

A very different prospect will be a Sharks team at home with a point to prove and desperate to establish form after losing to the Bulls last time out.

Since losing to the Bulls, the Sharks have spent two weeks preparing for this match (they had a bye last week), upping their intensity at practice, according to coach Robert du Preez, and working on every possible aspect of their game.

“I would say this is going to be our toughest match of the season,” Du Preez said.

“There is a lot to play for. We need to get our campaign back on track with a good performance going into the quarters and they could be playing for No 1 spot on the overall standings, so it is going to be very exciting. We have had an up and down season, especially at home, and we owe it to our supporters to get it right on Saturday.”

Du Preez has raised eyebrows by dropping Curwin Bosch to the bench, preferring fit-again Lwazi Mvovo at fullback and Garth April at flyhalf, with Bosch covering both positions from the bench.

It is a big call indeed.

Bosch is the second-highest points scorer in Super Rugby (140) behind the Lions’ Elton Jantjies (158) with Marty Banks of the Highlanders, third (120).

It is possible that the perception that Bosch has weaknesses on defence had something to do with it, but coach Du Preez gave this explanation: “We feel that every time Lwazi has played fullback he has played really well, he brings a lot of security at the back and he is also a very good attacking fullback as we saw when he played for SA A (against the French Barbarians).

“Garth has done well for us at 10 and we wanted to keep continuity in the position, while Curwin can cover both positions off the bench,” Du Preez added.

There is a welcome return at outside centre for Lukhanyo Am, who is back from a six-week cheekbone injury and wing Kobus van Wyk is another who has recovered from injury to reclaim his place.

It is arguably the strongest team Du Preez has picked this season, with only The Beast (neck) and Pat Lambie (concussion) unavailable.

Jean-Luc and Daniel du Preez are back in tandem in the loose trio along with captain Philip van der Walt.

It is a muscular Sharks pack and Du Preez emphasised that if the Sharks hope to win they have to stop the Lions from getting the front-foot ball that flyhalf Jantjies thrives on.

“We are going to have to be very accurate in the set pieces and then we have to put their key players under pressure.

“If you give them opportunities to attack, they will grab them, so we must be very accurate on defence,” the coach said.

“But it is not just about stopping the Lions, we have shown against them that we can also play attacking rugby,” Du Preez said, alluding to the match between the sides in Johannesburg on April 1.

“We can’t go into our shells in this one, we will take our attacking opportunities when they arise, make no mistake. We want a repeat performance of that first-round game against the Lions. We felt very unlucky to lose having played so play well so hopefully we can play like that again and this time the result will go our way.”

Captain Van der Walt said that the Sharks had ultimately lost that game because of poor discipline.

“There were a number of 50-50 (TMO) decisions that went against us but we should not be getting into a position where those calls have to be made,” the flanker said.

“We want to take the 50-50 calls out of our game. Discipline is so important in a game like this. Our guys are so eager for this one but they have to control that eagerness and channel it into putting them under pressure from the get-go and not letting them off the hook with penalties against us.”

The Mercury