Champs wary of Sharkbite

Vodacom Cheetahs tighthead Jannie du Plessis expects an almighty onslaught from the Sharks front row this weekend.

The 23-year-old prop has been one of the keys to the Free State scrum’s success, but exhibits nothing but reverence for the men from Durban.

“Ahead of every Sharks game, I become quite nervous,” Du Plessis told keo.co.za. “It has a lot to do with scrumming against Kees
[Lensig]. He’s the type of guy who can really shatter your confidence after three or four scrums.”

The battle between Du Plessis and Lensig will be an influential one indeed, with both teams relying heavily on their set pieces for go-forward ball. Du Plessis elaborated on this point, conceding that although Lensig was a big reason for the Sharks’ prominence in the scrums, their entire front row deserves due recognition.

“They have a huge front row in Kees, BJ [Botha] and Bismarck [du Plessis] and scrum well as a unit. They are most definitely the best scrummagers that we’ve played against in this year’s Currie Cup.”

In their previous meeting, the Cheetahs struggled against the Sharks pack in Durban, but managed to produce a 31-19 win. The home side failed to take their opportunities in the backline, and that loss may come back to haunt them as they head to Bloemfontein as the underdogs. The champs will have learned their lesson, and opportunities for the Sharks will be scarce, as the Cheetahs boast the best defensive record in the competition.

However, Du Plessis believes that Saturday’s contest will be extremely competitive.

“In Durban, they managed to gain a lot of momentum from the scrum, and even when we had the put-in we were often on the back foot.

“But the stakes are a lot higher this time, and so both teams should up their games considerably. The fact that they lost last week to the Bulls will make them all the more dangerous as well.”

The Cheetahs top the log with 45 points, and may only miss out on a playoff spot if they fail to take a single point from the next two games. Even then, the fifth placed Lions will need 10 points from their remaining fixtures to edge out the champs.

While it seems likely that Free State will make the semi-finals, it is less certain as to whether they will play this game home or away. Du Plessis seemed unfazed, and was adamant that the rest of the side feel the same way.

“We won the title at Loftus last year, and we haven’t had too many semi-final games in Bloemfontein,” he said. “These next two weeks are going to be more about maintaining momentum than worrying about where we play in the knockout stage.”

By Jon Cardinelli