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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Sharks are ignoring the permutations

The Cell C Sharks are in a difficult position going into the final week of the league stage of Vodacom Super Rugby as they face one of those rare scenarios where a win could actually translate into a loss.

Former Sharks coach John Plumtree could do his former team a huge favour if he helps plot a Hurricanes win over the Crusaders on Saturday morning in his capacity as assistant coach of the Wellington based side. That would mean the Emirates Lions would be in with a great chance of topping the overall log and thus clinching the right to play all their play-off matches at home.

Why that would be good for the Sharks is that it would mean they travel to Johannesburg for the quarterfinal rather than to New Zealand. The problem though is an obvious one – even if the Hurricanes do win, the Lions won’t finish top if the Sharks beat them in their final league match at Kings Park on Saturday afternoon.

There is another slight chance that the Sharks’ dilemma could be eased. If the Highlanders lose to the Reds in their final league match on Friday and don’t pick up a bonus point, the Sharks could go past them into seventh position on the log if they beat the Lions with a bonus point.

The Highlanders are at home to the Reds though so such a result appears unlikely. That was why it was so important for the Sharks to beat the Bulls in their previous match, as it would have meant them going into this final week level with the Highlanders and with the same number of wins.

A Reds win would take away the dilemma for the Sharks though as a win over the Lions would then secure them a trip to Emirates Airlines Park regardless of what happens in Wellington earlier on Saturday as they would then be seventh and the Lions second on the combined log (2 hosts 7).

Just what is needed or possible will only become clearer during the course of the weekend. It is likely that the "beat the Lions to finish seventh option" would have been removed by Friday morning. If the Crusaders beat the Hurricanes on Saturday morning, then the result of the Kings Park game becomes irrelevant. If the Hurricanes beat the Crusaders, then the Sharks are better off losing…

It’s all very complicated, and Sharks coach Robert du Preez can’t even consider the option of fielding a second string team against the Lions, which would make sense if they don’t want to win the game, as his team was horrible in the last match against the Bulls. They have had a bye subsequently so they desperately need to gel the combinations and pick up some kind of momentum before the play-offs.

According to assistant coach Sean Everett, the Sharks will just ignore the permutations and go for broke against the Lions in the knowledge that a win over the top South African side in the competition will be a huge confidence booster and something to remember for fans who have suffered through their team’s inconsistency this season.

“It was not ideal for us to have a bye after one match having just had a month off for the June internationals so our focus in his match is very much on performance so that we have some form going into the quarters,” said Everett.

“We want to play well and get back to winning ways. That is what this game is about, regardless of the results earlier in the day,” he added.

It has been a tendency of the Sharks this year to have one good week followed by a bad week, or vice-versa, and judging from what Everett had to say, it appears the Sharks might be preparing themselves for yet another strong response to a poor performance.

“There is no need to talk about motivation. We had some really good sessions during the bye week trying to rectify what went wrong against the Bulls.”

The Lions have had a good run of success against the Sharks in recent years and Everett says the team knows what to expect.

“The Lions will be coming to Durban with a must-win attitude so we know what to expect from them and will be up for it,” said the assistant coach.

The Sharks did push the Lions closer than most opponents have this season in the first round game in Johannesburg and they have been strengthened in the area of weakness that let them down against the Bulls by the return to fitness of some key backline players, including Lwazi Mvovo and Kobus van Wyk.

It will be interesting to see if Du Preez will consider playing Van Wyk at outside centre, where he starred for the South African under-20 team a couple of years ago. Van Wyk was selected there for a recent Sharks XV game against a Cheetahs XV in the Supersport Challenge.


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