The Sharks have a gilt-edged opportunity to shift into the home semi-final slot with a victory over the Griquas this Friday but Kees Lensing warns there is no room for error.
With a victory expected against the Griquas and either the Vodacom Cheetahs or Vodacom Western Province taking points off each other in their match on the same day, the Sharks can realistically expect to be in second place at the end of the next round of the Absa Currie Cup.
A win would provide Dick Muir’s side with great confidence and momentum going into the vital games against the Vodacom Blue Bulls (16 September) and the Cheetahs (23 September).
But Lensing refused to look that far ahead and warned that his side would have to be vigilant for the reminder of the tournament.
“There’s no room for a loss,” Lensing told keo.co.za. “We know that we need to get as many points as possible out of our remaining games and we can’t rely on other teams to make mistakes.”
The Sharks fielded a young side in accordance with their dual squad system and lost against Griquas in Kimberly in the first round of the competition. A subsequent loss against the Cheetahs has now left them scrapping for a home semi-final placing.
“We are hoping those losses early in the season won’t come back to bite us,” he said. “We only have ourselves to blame if they do have an influence on whether we get a home semi or not.
“Against the Griquas we made too many mistakes and failed to finish the chances we had and against the Cheetahs we lost concentration and that cost us.”
A victory over the Valke on Saturday means that Griquas still have an outside chance of making the top four and Lensing is aware that this will infuse the Kimberly-based side with the added impetus to repeat their first round victory.
“They’ll come hard at us for sure. In our last game against them we were down 14 – 0 within the first ten minutes.
“When you give the smaller unions a sniff of victory like that then you can be sure that the rest of the game is going to be a bit of a dog-fight,” he said.
“The way they played when they got into that position, there was no way we were ever going to get back into the game.
“We can’t let that happen again.”
Lensing said that they expected the visitors to play their usual forward-orientated, abrasive style of rugby and said they were aware of the kicking prowess of a Sharks old boy in the Griquas ranks.
“We know that their forwards have been their strength this season and they thrive on the mistakes of other teams because Conrad Barnard is an excellent goal-kicker.
“He is a former Sharks player so he’ll want to prove the point that he is still good enough to compete at this level.”
The Sharks youngsters have deputised admirably in the absence of the more experienced players who are on Springbok duty.
But with a three week period that could prove to be decisive in determining the final league standings, Lensing admitted that he looks forward to the return of AJ Venter and co.
“In two weeks time most of the Springboks will be back and that will really give us a boost ahead of the Bulls game.
“The youngsters though have done brilliantly and they have definitely given the coach options. They’ve come in and said: ‘I’ve got the goods’ and they will put real pressure on the first-choice players in the team, and that can only be good for the Sharks.”
Lensing confirmed that he was “very doubtful” for Friday’s game after sustaining an abdominal muscle and groin strain at the weekend.
He did confirm that lock Steven Sykes and loose forward Jacques Botes will return to the side after they watched from the stands in the game against the Pumas.
By Ryan Vrede