Sharks resist urge to overhaul

Dick Muir has made just one enforced change to the run-on side that was trounced against the Vodacom Blue Bulls.

Butch James has failed to recover from a knee injury and is replaced by Francois Steyn at flyhalf.

It was widely excepted that Muir would make changes to the pack after their dismal performance last Saturday but has instead opted to stengthen the bench with the return of Springbok lock Johan Ackermann and flanker Keegan Daniel, who played for the KZN U21 side last week.

Prop Deon Carstens has recovered from pneumonia and will join them on the wood as will hooker Skipper Badenhorst in place of Jody Jenneker.

Sharks captain Warren Britz has dismissed speculation that their pack’s misery could be compounded against the Vodacom Free State Cheetahs.

Their pack was decimated at the hands of the marauding Vodacom Blue Bulls and pundits have predicted an even greater forward challenge waits in Bloemfontein.

Rassie Erasmus’ team are possibly the most complete side in the competition, with a pack that has improved exponentially during his reign and a back division with the potential to unhinge even the most well structured defence.

Britz was guarded in his criticism of his team and rejected the suggestion that his tight five’s speed to rucks between phases was a major contributing factor to the heavy defeat. He did however concede that the breakdown was a point of concern for the Sharks.

“We are not worried about our speed to the breakdown but rather how ineffective we were when we got there,” he told Keo.co.za.

“The Bulls dominated us physically at rucks, which is an area we pride ourselves on dominating,” he said before speculating about the possible causes for this. “Success at the breakdown is all about mentality and maybe some of the younger guys were a bit intimidated by the size of the Bulls pack.

“We are confident that against the Cheetahs we’ll put that right.”

The Cheetahs though have made breakdown play a science. With loose-forwards equally adept at carry the ball as they are stealing it, the improvement that Britz speaks of will have to be a fairly significant one. In addition to their aptitude for poaching opposition ball, they possess the backline to make teams rue the ruck time shortcomings, by counterattacking with deadly efficiency.

Another disappointing aspect of the Sharks game against the Bulls was the impotency of their rolling maul. Britz though choose to attribute that to factors outside of the team’s control.

“There were a lot problems with the rolling mauls that stemmed from Bulls players hitting in at the side of the maul or coming right around the maul and continuing to play the ball,” he said in a tone that conveyed his frustration. “The ref has to help the attacking side in situations like that but that unfortunately didn’t happen.

“At one stage we had great momentum and the maul had reached their 22m line before they blatantly collapsed it. But nothing was done. The maul has been a great strength of ours and against the Cheetahs we hope this aspect of play will be policed properly.”

The Sharks know the competition is at that stage where a loss will have an adverse effect on the surge towards a home semi-final. With the Bulls likely to beat the Griquas on Saturday and Vodacom Western Province favourites over the Lions, the Sharks could end up playing the Cheetahs twice in two weeks if they finish fourth.

Britz however was adamant that Saturday’s result was an aberration and was confident that the Durban-based side would be at their best at Vodacom Park.

“The Cheetahs are not the champions for nothing. They are an extremely good unit. But we have a point to prove and we’ll try to do that in the most emphatic way we can.”

Sharks: 15. JP Pietersen 14. Odwa Ndungane 13. Waylon Murray 12. Bradley Barritt 11. Adrian Jacobs 10. Francois Steyn 9. Ruan Pienaar 8. Ryan Kankowski 7. Jacques Botes 6. Warren Britz (Captain) 5. Johann Muller 4. Steven Sykes 3. BJ Botha 2. Bismarck du Plessis 1. Kees Lensing Replacements: 16. Skipper Badenhorst 17. Deon Carstens 18. Johan Ackermann 19. Keegan Daniel 20. Scott Mathie 21. Andries Strauss 22 . Brent Russell

By Ryan Vrede