A week ago AJ Venter said the Sharks were rooting for the Lions against the Vodacom Blue Bulls, now they’re on the opposite end of the continuum.
The Lions gutsy 19-17 victory over their northern neighbours ensured the Sharks maintained parity with the Bulls on 25 points, and with a game in hand. On Saturday they’ll want to capitalise on that advantage by giving the Lions a reality check.
And though Venter is weary of the much-improved recent showings by the Johannesburg side, he warns the Sharks could embarrass those who have spoken of a Lion’s resurgence.
“Look, they played fantastic rugby last week, you’ve got to give them credit for that,” he told keo.co.za. “It [the result against the Bulls] has really given us a wake up call, and we won’t be complacent,” he added.
“We are aware of that Loffie [Eugene Eloff] is trying to build a team that is capable of beating anyone in the competition, and we’ll be going out to ensure we don’t become their next victims.
“Having said that, we are not too bothered about any team’s resurgence or whatever. We concentrate on our game and make sure that we are doing everything required of us to walk away with a win from Ellis Park.”
The Sharks go into the game without a recognised goal-kicker, following Ruan Pienaar’s call-up to the Springbok team. This puts them at a disadvantage considering that on the Highveld kickers have been known to slot kicks from well into their own halves.
Venter though shrugs this off as a non-issue.
“What people don’t know is that Campo [David Campese - Sharks backline consultant] has been working with all of the backs on their tactical and goal kicking for the last six or seven months,” he points out.
“Even I can kick a bit,” he laughs. “Brad [Barritt] will start out as our place kicker and I’m sure he’ll do a great job. But all the guys [backs] are more than competent with the boot.”
He said the experience and calmness that injured Andre Pretorius brings to the side will be missed and will diminish the potency of their backline. He also hinted that there might be a conspiracy behind Pretorius’ replacement Jaco van Schalkwyk’s participation in the match.
“We’ll wait to see if he plays,” Venter said. “The media have been saying he’ll play but we will wait to see if that happens.” Venter declined to comment on whether the Sharks have any inside information that would give them a reason to believe Van Schalkwyk would not play at flyhalf but did say that no special plan was in place for whoever played at pivot for the Lions.
“We’ve got a attacking structure that works for us and no flyhalf is going to change that. We’ll stick what we know best and that’s playing the situation as we see it.”
The Sharks also have their own flyhalf conundrum of their own. With Brent Russell back many pundits were calling for his inclusion at No 10. Venter though believes the utility back is devastating now matter what position he plays in.
“To be honest I don’t know why they didn’t pick Brent at flyhalf because I’m not involved in the selection of the team. What I can say is that I’m pleased to have him in the side period.
“He adds experience to a very young backline and you can be sure he won’t be content to wait out on the wing for the ball, he’ll get involved and make a nuisance of himself, guaranteed.”
By Ryan Vrede
Lions vs Sharks – Ellis Park, 5pm
Sharks team: 15 JP Pietersen 14 Odwa Ndungane 13 Waylon Murray 12 Andries Strauss 11 Brent Russell 10 Bradley Barritt 9 Scott Mathie 8 AJ Venter (captain) 7 Jacques Botes 6 Warren Britz 5 Steven Sykes 4 Wouter Moore 3 Danie Saayman 2 Bismarck du Plessis 1 Kees Lensing Substitutes: 16 Skipper Badenhorst 17 Robbie Harris 18 Keegan Daniel 19 Ryan Kankowski 20 Sandile Nxumalo 21 Gcobani Bobo 22 Francois Steyn
Lions team: 15 Earl Rose 14 Wylie Human 13 Jaco Pretorius 12 Doppies la Grange 11 Louis Ludik 10 Jaco van Schalkwyk 9 Ricky Januarie 8 Ernst Joubert 7 Wikus van Heerden 6 Cobus Grobbelaar 5 Anton van Zyl 4 Cobus Grobler 3 Bertus Smit 2 Ethienne Reynecke 1 Heinke van der Merwe Substitutes: 16 James van der Walt 17 Lawrence Sephaka 18 Franco van der Merwe 19 Roland Bernard 20 Nic Eyre 21 Grant Esterhuizen 22 Mark Harris