The Sharks will be targeting a fast start against a Highlanders side that is set to present a considerable kicking challenge on Friday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
There were some encouraging signs in the Sharks’ first-half performance against the Blues last weekend, with the Durban-based side doing well to open up an 11-3 lead early on before falling off the pace and eventually succumbing to a five-point loss.
Again, the Sharks were forced to spend an inordinate amount of time on defence, with the need to improve their ball retention and decision-making when in possession remaining a clear area for improvement.
It’s also set to be a key aspect of the game in Dunedin, with the Highlanders having emerged as the side that has made the most kicks from hand in the competition thus far.
Speaking from the team’s initial base in Queenstown, director of rugby Gary Gold said the Sharks were preparing to face a different challenge on Friday.
‘The Highlanders do kick the ball the most, but they’re certainly not one-dimensional; they kick from 9 and 10, and you’re forced to field lots of contestable kicks. So you’re generally getting the ball under pressure, and it won’t be that easy to play off, but we also know that we could receive some more possession. So, when we have the ball, our decision-making will be crucial, and then we have to capitalise and make it count.
‘There may be more opportunities for us to hold on to the ball, and that remains a focus of ours,’ he added. ‘We want to build phases and create opportunities … We’ve got to ask questions of the Highlanders. It’s always a goal against Kiwi teams to start well and then put them on the back foot. That puts them in a position they’re not used to, and then you can take them out of their comfort zone.’
Gold said he firmly believed that the Sharks were coming closer to striking the necessary balance to their game.
‘There were about half a dozen opportunities [against the Blues] that we missed because we either spilt the ball, threw a silly pass or lost a lineout. But there was enough evidence again to see our intent, which is to move the ball, vary our attack and use the width of the field. We just need to win the ball and look after it a bit more. When we were able to get through the phases, we did begin to look dangerous.’
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