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Rugby | Currie Cup

Wake-up call can work for Sharks

Sharks coach Robert du Preez says he wants his team to forget their performance against Western Province and move on, but he won’t want his charges to completely erase the 31-20 defeat from their minds.

Although the Sharks didn’t stand to gain anything from the last Currie Cup league match of the season and they were up against a much hungrier WP side that had a home semifinal to play for, the defeat understandably didn’t sit well with Du Preez. The former Springbok scrumhalf knows how important it is to take momentum into the play-offs, and the defeat to the Cape team was the Sharks’ first since the opening round of the competition.

A first defeat after a long sequence of wins can have a much bigger impact than a loss that comes when you are more used to losing as it breaks a winning habit, and Du Preez knows that. It is probably why he said after the Kings Park clash with a team that was spearheaded on the day by an excellent performance from his son, also Robert, that he wants the players to just move on and put it behind them. In other words, rewind the clock to before the WP fixture.

However, looking at it another way, Du Preez knows that the loss could also be used as a wake-up call by his men, and the perfect fire-cracker to be put under them as they go into the business end of the competition with a home semifinal against the Blue Bulls.

“We have to fix it now. We have put in a huge amount of hard work over the season and that cannot go to waste,” said Du Preez.

“We are going to have regroup on Monday, forget this game and move on. We have a semifinal to win.”

The pressure will certainly be heaped more on the Sharks this week than it will be on the Bulls. The Sharks have been pretty much assured of home ground advantage in the play-offs for a couple of weeks now, and with each passing week where they kept winning the expectation of their supporters would have grown.

The perception is that after the season they have enjoyed, the Currie Cup is theirs for the Sharks to lose, and in some ways the Sharks are in the same position on Saturday that their opponents, the Lions, were in the Super Rugby quarterfinal played in Johannesburg at the end of July. The Sharks will need a place in the final as a minimum requirement after being so dominant in the league phase, which is the converse of the situation that pertained in Super Rugby where the Sharks went to Emirates Airlines Park with the Lions feeling all the pressure after finishing first on the log to the Sharks' eighth.

Judging from his comments after the WP game, Du Preez would have preferred to go into this difficult fixture off a good win.

“Although we were up on the scoreboard at halftime against WP we were just going through the motions, and that resulted in us going into the second half with the same attitude at a time when the opposition were starting to play proper rugby. That put us under pressure,” said Du Preez.

“The bottom line is that although you have to give WP credit for the way they played, we only have ourselves to blame for not being clinical in our approach and we have learned the hard way that you can’t take any game for granted.”

That last point is true and in that sense the defeat to WP ahead of a semifinal where the hosts will start as overwhelming favourites was a timely one. Earlier in the year the Sharks had a habit of playing one good game and one bad one, or vice-versa, and Du Preez will hope his men return to that trend this week.

The only injury doubts for the Sharks ahead of the Bulls game are to prop Thomas du Toit and flanker Jacques Vermeulen. The former left the field with what looked like a leg injury while Vermeulen is nursing sore ribs. Should Du Toit be forced out it would be a big blow for the Sharks but Vermeulen does have a more than capable replacement in the form of Bok flanker Jean-Luc du Preez.

Du Preez missed the WP game as he was recovering from a minor injury sustained in the epic final Rugby Championship clash between the Boks and the All Blacks but is expected to be fit for the semifinal. On the positive side of the balance sheet, two influential backline players in the form of Lukhanyo Am and Kobus van Wyk both got through the WP game without showing any signs of the injuries that had kept them out previously.

Van Wyk played off the bench to allow Odwa Ndungane to celebrate his tribute match as a member of the starting team but the smart money will be on the former WP player returning to the starting team.


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