Sharks coach Brad Macleod-Henderson says his team can't afford another slow start in this weekend's semi-final at Ellis Park. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
Despite scoring first at the weekend against Western Province, the Sharks found themselves trailing 20-11 at the turn. While an inexperienced WP side allowed them back into the match in the second half, a similar first-half performance could prove fatal to the Sharks' final ambitions come Saturday.
The Sharks can ill-afford to give the Golden Lions a head start at a ground they've yet to lose at during the Currie Cup season. With a large crowd expected in Johannesburg, the team from Durban are looking to keep the home side quiet in the vital early exchanges.
'They are a dangerous team when they get front-foot ball,' Macleod-Henderson told SARugbymag.co.za.
'We need to make sure we start well and put pressure on them early, make it as difficult as possible for them to get into their rhythm.
'We were perhaps a bit loose against Western Province, but we got a lot better in the second half once we tightened things up a bit, so we'll take those lessons into this weekend's match.'
The Sharks got the better of the Lions just a couple weeks back, with Fred Zeilinga kicking 21 points in a narrow 26-23 victory. Their recent record at Ellis Park is a cause for concern, however, having lost on four of their last five visits to South Africa's rugby cathedral. Their sole victory in recent seasons came last year via the boot of that man Zeilinga, where he kicked two conversions, two penalties and two drop goals to go with a try for another 21-point haul.
Lionel Cronjé had another solid outing against Province, but Macleod-Henderson is well aware that Currie Cup semi-finals are often decided by the finest of margins.
'Play-off rugby is about taking your opportunities, so we need to take full advantage of every opportunity that comes our way.
'Lionel is dictating things nicely at No 10, and his goal-kicking went really well over the weekend. It's great to have a player like Fred available as well. It's a nice situation to have heading into a semi-final.'
The Lions have been particularly strong at scrum time this year and decimated the Free State Cheetahs on Saturday, not for the first time this season. However, Macleod-Henderson is happy he has the players at his disposal to nullify the threat.
'We included four props [against Western Province], and it worked quite nicely for us on the weekend, so that's certainly an option.
'The Lions obviously have a strong set piece, a strong maul and they play with a lot of width. They've had a good Currie Cup and they're at home, so it's going to be a massive challenge. But if we execute our game plan how we would like to, we stand a good chance of knocking them over.'
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