Western Force captain Nathan Sharpe believes the Cats will become the first team to lose to the Force this year when the two bottom-dwellers clash at Ellis Park on Friday night.
“When in future years we look back over the Western Force’s timeline, I’d like to be able to think the Crusaders game was the one that changed things, the one that paved the way for our first win, against the Cats,” Sharpe wrote in his column in the West Australian newspaper.
Still with the momentum of the pulsating 23-23 draw against the Crusaders, the Force arrived at the altitude of Johannesburg on their own high, with the early return of long term casualties Lachlan MacKay and Junior Pelesasa adding to the upbeat mood.
And the news the Cats will again be without captain Wikus van Heerden, who failed a fitness test on Tuesday, further swung the momentum towards the Force, and Sharpe has talked up his team’s chances of an historic first win.
“You don’t want to be overconfident but this really is a good chance for us to finally get the four points for a win.”
In naming a starting XV with just one change, Brock James replacing the luckless Scott Daruda at flyhalf, coach John Mitchell said the belief gleaned from the Crusaders’ performance was important.
“I don’t dwell on past performances. I’m just hopeful we can take the momentum from last week’s game into Friday night’s game,” Mitchell told the Australian Associated Press.
“(But) they’re a good team, with quality players like Andre Pretorius and Jaque Fourie. And playing at home will make them a pretty tough opponent.”
As the Force accentuate the positive, the Cats’ hierarchy are calling the game their most important of the season, with high stakes for a loss.
The immediate threat of relegation from the Super 14 competition was lifted by the South African Rugby Union last week, when it announced the Southern Spears were not ready for their elevation to the big time.
But with two wooden spoons in the past three seasons, a loss to the Force would likely bring a third, with rumblings of dissatisfaction from local rugby bosses and sponsors beginning to surface.
Cats’ coach Frans Ludeke said Friday’s clash was important at several levels. “There is a lot to play for, not only to get a win but also to get the team back on track,” Ludeke said.
“There is also a lot at stake for the team and the union – for everyone. So we will not approach the game with the attitude that we should just go out and play. We have to win this one.”