Sharks set for ground to air assault

Sharks captain Johann Muller says nullifying the Cheetahs at the lineouts and breakdown will be central to success.

The Sharks come into the Absa Currie Cup match at Kings Park on Saturday buoyed by a 35-24 victory over the Blue Bulls last week. The Cheetahs pushed a Springbok-laden Western Province hard in Bloemfontein on Saturday, until Jean de Villiers sealed the result with a late intercept try.

Despite the loss, Muller noted the Cheetahs were impressive at lineout time, pilfering a number of Province’s feeds and proving to be secure on their own throws. He said their offensive and defensive strength lies in the number of options they have at the set phase, with David de Villiers, Barend Pieterse, Juan Smith and Duanne Vermuelen all competent in the air.

“We can’t match them there for height. They have some really tall loose forwards who give them a range of options,” Muller told keo.co.za.

“Their lineout success rate is better than any team in the tournament and that says everything you need to know about what a challenge that will be. If you’re robbed of quality first phase ball you lose a primary attacking platform and we are going to have to work hard to ensure we don’t.”

Muller was, however, acutely aware that to limit the Cheetahs to one avenue of attack would cost his team. He spoke of their all-round strength but pointed to their skill and efficiency at the breakdown as an imminent threat.

“There are an average of 15 lineouts in a match but about 200 rucks so it would be silly on our part not to note their strength at the breakdown,” he said.

“The last time we played them in Bloemfontein [the Cheetahs were emphatic 31-9 victors] they were all over us at the breakdown and that cost us dearly. The Bulls were really good there [on Saturday] with Wikus van Heerden and Deon Stegmann working hard to turnover ball. We’ve identified it as an area we have to step up in.”

There is every possibility that the Sharks will have a close to full strength squad to select from with news that Springboks Adi Jacobs, Beast Mtawarira and Ryan Kankowski trained well on Monday, while a head knock sustained against the Bulls hasn’t concussed Brad Barritt. John Smit is the only definite non-starter, but he should be ready to play within the next fortnight.

The return of their Springboks will further bolster the Sharks who have an opportunity to open some breathing room between themselves and the Cheetahs with victory in Durban.

“We’ll make a final call on the squad on Thursday but those boys looked good today and we’re confident they could be available for selection,” Muller said. “They’re all quality players so their presence for a match of this importance will be a massive boost.”

Victory gives them some breathing room. Defeat and the Bulls are away.

By Ryan Vrede