Sharks captain AJ Venter has dismissed Luke Watson as a factor in his side’s crucial Absa Currie Cup match against Vodacom Western Province.
The two are former Sharks teammates, and Venter has praised the Western Province captain’s performances in the press recently, but insists he won’t be their sole focus.
“Who’s Luke Watson?” he responded, when asked whether all the hype around Watson would cause his team to concerntrate so much on nullifying the flanker that it could make them vulnerable to other Western Province players.
Venter’s response implied he views the Western Province team was more than a one man show and the 33-year-old was full of praise for the Cape-based side’s impressive performances thus far.
“They’ve been playing unbelievable rugby this year,” he told keo.co.za. “We were really lucky to beat them at Newlands [in the first round] and we know that they will want to get one back at us.
“When you look at their team you might say that they have no big name players, but as a unit they are incredible and play for each other,” he added.
“It’s no mistake that they are top of the log.”
With three losses in the competition thus far, Venter is acutely aware that another could place a home semi-final in jeopardy.
Five points on Friday would see the Sharks move into second place, albeit temporarily, pending the result of the Cheetahs versus Valke game on Saturday.
More importantly, it could open the gap between themselves and the resurgent Lions to 10 points, with both teams having played nine games.
It’s that time of the tournament again, when every win, especially those over a closely placed rival, becomes invaluable.
“The pressure is starting to really build now,” Venter said. “Not only on us but on all of the top five sides.
“We want to build a gap between ourselves and the Lions and start really making a push for a home semi-final.
“We can’t afford to lose now,” he asserted. “If you just want to be a contender for any semi-final spot, then I suppose you can lose, but we want a home semi-final and final, and to do that we have to win our remaining games.”
Much has been made of the Sharks lack of a recognised place-kicker and some pundits have attributed last Saturday’s loss against the Lions to this fact.
Venter acknowledges the issue, but downplays its significance, and surprisingly blames himself for the loss.
“With Ruan [Pienaar] missing obviously we haven’t found as solid a kicker to replace him. But to say that it cost us the match is not true.
“I take it on myself,” he said. “If I hadn’t lost my cool with the referee and given that penalty away, we wouldn’t have been in a better position [to win the game].”
The Sharks will also have to minimise the handling errors that have been a feature of their game in recent weeks, but Venter is sure that the team will be focussed and decisive in their execution come Friday.
“We’ve worked hard in video sessions and in training,and there has been some serious introspection by the guys this week to put right little things that ultimately cost us games.
“We won’t go into our shell now,” he said. “We want to continue playing an attractive and exciting brand of rugby.
“We’ve been breaking the defensive lines often this season but have just not been able to finish off the chances that we are creating.
“We’ll put that right against Province.”
By Ryan Vrede