Willem Alberts and the Sharks forwards must play to their strengths for the Durban-based side to claim a consolatory win in Brisbane this Friday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Some have said the Sharks have nothing more to lose. They're still without several Springboks, who are unavailable due to injuries and suspensions. They've lost six games in a row, and are no longer in the play-off race. With all of this in mind, perhaps it would be best if they went out to Suncorp Stadium this Friday and expressed themselves via a free-running approach.
Then again, perhaps not. The reality is this Sharks side still has a lot to play for over the next four weeks. They don't want to finish at the bottom of the South African pile. They don't want to become the first Sharks side in history to lose seven consecutive matches, nor do they want to be the first Sharks team that loses all of their matches on an Australasian tour.
There's a lot at stake this Friday, and this should influence their mental and physical approach. Then there's the fact they're playing on one of the 'fastest' rugby pitches on the planet, and against a team stacked with broken-field specialists.
If the Sharks attempt to play a high-tempo, expansive game this Friday, they will only succeed in playing into the Reds' hands. The Brisbane-based side has struggled in 2015. Gone are the days when Ewen McKenzie was coach and the Reds boasted a fierce forward and tactical-kicking reputation. They may still have a host of innovative backline players as well as a couple of devastating finishers in the back three, but those players have only been a factor this season when the contest has been loose.
The Sharks have the personnel to overpower the Reds, and ultimately slow the game down. They have the scrum and the lineout to succeed in this manner, as well as the loose forwards to win the fight at close quarters.
Alberts will be the key man for the visitors. The Bok No 7 has been the Sharks' best player in 2015, and they will certainly need a typically belligerent showing from him this Friday. They will need Alberts to take them beyond the gainline on attack, and to lead the way on defence with those momentum-stopping hits.
Suncorp Stadium has witnessed some entertaining, open-running contests over the years. And yet, the Boks in the Sharks set-up will remember how South Africa hammered Australia 38-12 at this very venue in 2013.
While the Boks scored four tries on that occasion, the result as well as the surprisingly sharp attacking showing was built on a commanding forward performance. Bismarck du Plessis was massive at the breakdown that day, while Alberts and Duane Vermeulen manhandled opponents at the gainline.
The Sharks forwards have to keep their Reds counterparts on the back foot. They have to limit the influence of Liam Gill, the Reds' fetcher, at the breakdown. Gill will struggle to win the turnover and ultimately spark a sweeping counter-attack if his teammates are losing the collisions.
Gainline dominance will also aid the Sharks defence, which has been consistently poor this season. It should go without saying that the Sharks need to lift their effort and accuracy in this area. While the Reds are currently 14th on the combined Vodacom Super Rugby log, they showed what they are capable of on attack in an emphatic 46-29 win over the Rebels last week.
Both teams will be desperate for a result following a largely poor 2015 campaign. The Reds will be playing at home this Friday, and will fancy their chances. However, the Sharks have plenty of power and experience in their pack, and if they use it to good effect, they will finish their Australasian tour on a high.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Reds 11, Sharks 9
In Australia: Reds 7, Sharks 3
STATS AND FACTS
– The Reds have won just two of their last nine Super Rugby fixtures against the Sharks.
– The Sharks have lost six games on the bounce, it is only the second time they have lost six in a row in a single campaign (2000).
– The Reds have held a half-time lead in just one of their last 14 games, they went on to win that game (against the Force) and have turned two other half-time deficits into victories in that period.
– Only the Lions (109) have conceded more points in the 20 minutes before half-time than the Sharks (99) and the Reds (94).
– The Sharks’ Marco Wentzel has won the most lineouts this season (58, including steals), while the Reds’ Jake Schatz is equal fourth in that regard (44).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Reds||James O'Connor (40)||Samu Kerevi (5)||Lachlan Turner (509)||Adam Thomson (113)|
|Sharks||Pat Lambie (93)||Marcell Coetzee (5)||SP Marais (701)||Marcell Coetzee (126)|
Reds – 15 James O'Connor, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Karmichael Hunt, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Chris Kuridrani, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (c).
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Pettowa Paraka, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Ben Tapuai.
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Etienne Oosthuizen, 21 Conrad Hoffman, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 André Esterhuizen.
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Matt O'Brien, Damien Mitchelmore
TMO: Peter Marshall
The Money Man's betting tips (to come)
Photo: Sabelo Mngoma/BackpagePix