Super final: our experts' views
The Sharks will attempt to do the seemingly impossible when they fly halfway around the world for the third time in three weeks to try and beat the Chiefs in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby final in Hamilton on Saturday.
We caught up with Saturday’s in-studio experts, Springboks Ashwin Willemse and Stefan Terblanche as well as former Springbok and Italy coach Nick Mallett, to give us their thoughts on what we might expect.
The build-up to Saturday’s big clash starts at 8:30am CAT (SA, GMT+2). You can catch it live on SuperSport 1, SuperSport HD and M-Net.
Here is what they had to say:
From personal experience, how much of an influence will the Sharks' hectic travelling schedule have on their performance?
Ashwin Willemse: I personally thought that the hectic travelling schedule was going to have an influence on their performance in the semifinal. Well, as we saw, that was not the case. I am not convinced they’ll be able to do it two weeks in a row. But I hope I'm wrong again.
Stefan Terblanche: It plays a massive part and it’s a huge obstacle to overcome.
Nick Mallett: Travel across time zones definitely does have an effect on performance. The Sharks have beaten the Reds and Stormers despite this disadvantage and it makes these results even more impressive.
Neither the Reds nor the Stormers profited from the huge benefit that home advantage and not travelling gave them.
Having to play away from home and travelling across various time zones in three consecutive weeks is terribly tough for the Sharks players and should they win against the Chiefs it will, in my opinion, be the greatest ever performance by any team in winning this competition.
Can the Sharks win this one. And if so, where do you see it happen?
AW: I surely hope so and I think all SA rugby fans will feel the same. The way for them to win it will not depend on how well they execute their game-plan, but rather how badly they want to win this trophy. At this stage, after all is said and done, it comes down to pure desire and will to win.
ST: Yes they can, but they shouldn’t. Not because they are not good enough, but all the travelling could take its toll. They can win based on forward domination and limiting the quality of ball that they allow for the Chiefs backline.
NM: For the Sharks to win, their International players have to play at the top of their form. The all-Bok front row must dominate the scrums and their forwards as a pack must control their own line-outs and pressurise the Chiefs’ slightly shaky lineout.
From this platform they must continue to play the dominating contact and off loading game that has created so many try scoring opportunities. Bismark, Alberts, Coetzee, Kankowski and Daniel are key to this. Michalak has to continue to play the situation as he has done so well over the last few weeks. His reading of the game has been excellent, with plenty of variety between flat attack, wide passing, grubbers, kicking for territory and taking drop goal opportunities.
Finally the Sharks must reduce their missed tackle stats which are around 20 missed tackles per game. They will have to produce a superhuman collective defensive effort to keep out the wonderful attacking unit that is the Chiefs, who have try scoring threats all over the field.
The Chiefs have had an amazing season under new coach Dave Rennie. Where did they get it right, and can we expect to see more of them in future finals?
AW: The Chiefs have had a super season and the coaching staff has been at the heart of that.
This season they have played a brand of rugby that I believe will transform Super Rugby. They were dominant with their pack of forwards and had the strike power out wide.
Their centre combination of Kahui (before he got injured) and SBW has arguably been the best centre combination in the tournament and Cruden is in the form of his life at 10. They’ve had the manpower to put together the perfect season.
ST: They have really sorted out their defence. They were always a fantastic attacking team but this year they are very solid and organised in defence, with a hard-nosed attitude in their forward pack.
NM: Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith have transformed the Chiefs from a dangerous attacking team with no real tight five and a leaky defence into a complete rugby team that plays with great heart on defence and is varied and skilful on attack.
They have muscled up in the front row with Sono Taumololo being outstanding in all aspects of the game. He is possibly the best all-round loose head in world rugby. Excellent scrummager, ferocious tackler, great pace and an eye for the pick-and-go try!
Brodie Retallick has been a revelation. He has the highest tight forward tackle count in Super Rugby and is a fine line-out jumper with a great engine. Then Kerr Barlow, Cruden and Sonny Bill are the form 9, 10, 12 in the competition.
Even though the Chiefs are losing Sono and Sonny Bill, I have no doubt that the coaching team of Rennie and Smith (best in NZ ) will maintain the Chiefs as a top side as long as they continue to coach there.
Can Sonny Bill be stopped. And if so, how?
AW: I have no idea!!! Lol. Well, one way of doing it is by tackling him out of his boots.. You have to be committed when you have a one-on-one encounter with him. Then, one way to stop the SBW effect, meaning the offloads, is for the defence to tighten up and mark the support runners trying to run off him.
ST: Yes, he can be stopped but that will depend, as mentioned in question 2, on the domination of the Sharks forward pack and the slowing down and disruption of ruck ball and first-phase possession.
NM: To stop Sonny Bill, the Sharks need to adopt a double tackle philosophy. He is too adept at beating a man and off loading to leave him to one defensive player.
On first phase drift defence I would move Michalak to blind side wing or fullback and run Louis Ludik, who is the best tackler in the Sharks backline, into the 10 defence channel. On the drift defence system, Ludik must leg tackle, stopping Sonny Bill's forward momentum and either the inside centre from outside, or scrumhalf from inside, must tackle the ball and stop his off load.
He is their key backline ball carrier, so he needs special attention.
What are the one-on-ones we should look out for in this match?
AW: For me there are two: Cruden against Michalak at 10, and Kerr-Barlow against McLeod at nine.
ST: Michalack v Cruden.
NM: The key match-ups are :
Chiefs front row v Sharks front row. Taumololo and Bismark are both world class ball carriers.
Loose forward units:
Both teams have great ball carriers that ensure physicality and continuity. The Sharks, in Daniel, have the most rugby intelligent loose forward in SA rugby. He has great off loading skills, and is tireless and brave. He has outstanding continuity skills and makes up for a relative lack of size with pace and anticipation.
Chiefs: Kerr-Barlow is brilliant defensively and on the break. Cruden attacks the gain line and is a running threat, but is a defensive weakness.
Sharks: McLeod, excellent quick service, decent break, good left foot box kick and brave tackler. Michalak is an intuitive reader of the game. He has good variation in kicking, close and wide passing, and is an individualist. Also brave but lacks physicality on defence and could find Sonny Bill a real handful.
Chiefs: Sonny Bill is world class, with the ability to create or score a try as soon as he gets quick front foot ball. Cruden has been excellent in creating space for SBW by being a running threat himself and attracting defenders.
Sharks: JP Pietersen is the best winger in world rugby and at the peak of his game at the moment. He is much more physical and better on defence than in years past. He is playing with huge confidence and the best X-factor backline player for the Sharks.