Sharks’ defence can tame Cheetahs

The Sharks need to produce an improved defensive performance against a Cheetahs side that will have nothing to lose in Durban on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Throughout this season the Sharks’ defence has been one of their real strengths, and under the guidance of assistant coach Omar Mouneimne they’ve remained one of the teams boasting the best tackle success percentage.

However, the Sharks have been beset by injuries in recent times, and there have certainly been indications that their defensive system is somewhat compromised by the disruptions to team continuity.

The Sharks are still without Pat Lambie and Willie le Roux, and lost Paul Jordaan to an unfortunate injury last weekend, but have been boosted by the quicker-than-expected recovery of André Esterhuizen, who will undoubtedly boost the Sharks’ defence.

While the Cheetahs have won just the four games this season, they remain a team that loves to keep the ball in hand and play from deep, and with the weather conditions in Durban set to be ideal for running rugby on Saturday, the visitors can be expected to play with plenty of freedom.

Last weekend, the Sharks’ uncharacteristically porous defence was punished by the ambitious Lions, with the Durban-based side slipping 22 tackles and conceding five tries.

The Sharks need to stick to what has worked well for them this season in terms of building a strong foundation based on an abrasive defence and territory-driven game, while punishing opposition errors.

It’s this sort of pragmatic approach that should certainly have the potential to reap rewards against a Cheetahs side that has committed the highest number of handling errors in the competition (241) and conceded the second-most penalties (141).

So, the Sharks will know that if they remain patient on attack and steadfast on defence, opportunities to punish ill-discipline and fire on the counter-attack are likely to arise.

The Sharks currently occupy the wildcard quarter-final berth with a three-point lead over the Bulls, but they’ll know that they can’t afford to slip up in the home straight.

As the Sharks do, the Bulls will face the Sunwolves and Cheetahs in the last two weeks of conference action, but it’s the Durban-based side that can retain control of their playoff prospects by making sure of their results over the next couple of weeks.

Overall: Sharks 9, Cheetahs 7
In Durban: Sharks 4, Cheetahs 4

– Six of the last nine meetings between these sides have been won by the away team, including each of the last two.
– The Cheetahs have lost their last six games away from home, with four of those defeats coming by more than 12 points.
– Despite winning three of their last five matches at home to fellow South African teams, the Sharks haven’t won consecutive home games against teams from South Africa since 2014.
– The Sharks have conceded only five tries to the opposition’s first-phase possession, although the Cheetahs have crossed for 19 first-phase tries this season, the most of any South African team.
– Francois Uys won a competition-high 10 lineouts in round 15 to take his season tally to 70, more than any other player.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Sharks Joe Pietersen (72) Paul Jordaan (4) Willie le Roux (593) Jean-Luc du Preez (122)
Cheetahs Niel Marais (71) Sergeal Petersen (9) Clayton Blommetjies (693) Paul Schoeman (108)

Sharks – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira (c).
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 Curwin Bosch.

Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche. 

Subs: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 George Whitehead, 23 William Small-Smith.

Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rashivhenge (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

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Craig Lewis