Brendan Botha says he accepts that teams will target the Sharks with rolling mauls after they showed vulnerability in that area in their last two matches.
The Vodacom Cheetahs devastated the Sharks pack on Saturday, as all three of their tries came from driving mauls. The Vodacom Blue Bulls first exposed their deficient defence of the maul a fornight ago, but while Botha conceded that this has been an area of concern for his side, he insisted that they had remedied this facet of play in their surge towards the final.
“It’s obvious that teams will target us in the mauls now after below standard performances for the last two weeks,” he told keo.co.za. “The Cheetahs and the Bulls both have great rolling mauls and defensively we just couldn’t get it right against them.
“The maul is a underused weapon in modern day rugby and they used it well,” he said, before adding that his team were now prepared for the inevitable forward onslaught from whoever they faced in future rounds.
Asked how you practically fixed a problem like this, Botha identified two key areas the Sharks had been working on.
“It’s about mindset and technique,” he explained. “The guys have to be switched on because it’s no surprise that the top teams in competition will look to dominate in the forwards, so the guys have to be mentally prepared to stand up to the challenge.
“The second issue is technique. That aspect hasn’t been helped by uncertainty in team selection as a result of a spate of injuries to forwards and players returning from Springbok duty. But I think that we [the forwards] are beginning to gel as a defensive unit and our technique will only get better as the tournament progresses.”
Botha rejected the suggestion that they had underestimated how much the loss of veteran loose-forward AJ Venter would affect the pack in particular and pointed out young forwards like Ryan Kankowski and Keegan Daniel, who he says have garnered enough experience to fill the void left by the 33-year-old.
“If we didn’t have depth in our side then maybe we could’ve used that as an excuse for our poor showing in the forwards but that’s not the case. We’ve got the right ingredients to make us really competitive and you’ll see that in the weeks ahead.”
Botha cast his eyes ahead to this weekend’s vital encounter against the Valke and was clear in his assessment of those areas he thought the Durban-based side had to improve ahead of a prospective return to either Vodacom Park or Loftus Versfeld for the semi-final.
“We have to keep possession better than we have recently, especially in the opponents 22m area. That is the strike zone and we have to be precise in our execution or we could make games really difficult for ourselves,” he said.
He added that the number of penalties the Sharks have conceded recently could cost them in tight games but added that they viewed the match against the Valke as an opportunity to hone areas of concern.
He spoke highly of the side from Brakpan and hinted that they have the ability to cause an upset should the Sharks approach the final group match complacently.
“They’ve got strong runners in their pack and there’s no doubt they will look to spoil our ball at the breakdown and at set phases. We’ll have to keep our structure but that doesn’t mean we’ll play conservatively,” he emphasised.
“Louis Strydom’s boot has proved to be a great asset for them this season and if we give him half a chance he’ll punish us.
“We view this game as an opportunity to set our gameplan for the play-offs. We are not looking back now and irrespective recent form, we are confident that we can still lift the trophy.”
By Ryan Vrede