Sharks ea­ger to ‘off­load’ Lions this time

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT - MIKE GREENAWAY

DUR­BAN: The Eng­land team may have gone home but the rugby drama con­tin­ues un­abated this evening when the Sharks host the Lions in a Su­per Rugby match of crit­i­cal im­por­tance for both teams.

The two sides are equally star-stud­ded with Spring­boks past and present, in­clud­ing a healthy dol­lop of play­ers who were part of the Boks’ thrilling se­ries win over Ed­die Jones’ tourists, so with per­sonal bat­tles in­ter­locked with the cru­cial need for log points, an epic show­down is guar­an­teed.

The Sharks have to win to­day, next week in Cape Town and then at home against the Jaguares in the last pool game to claim a quar­ter-fi­nal spot while the Lions can guar­an­tee them­selves a home quar­ter­fi­nal by beat­ing the Sharks.

The Lions are six points ahead of the Jaguares who, in turn, are six points ahead of the Sharks. Two of these three will go through and there is a pos­si­bil­ity of the third sneak­ing in via the two wild­cards al­lo­cated to the quar­ters for the top fin­ish­ers out­side the top two fin­ish­ers in each of the three Con­fer­ences.

“We are go­ing into a defin­ing part of our sea­son,” coach Robert du Preez ad­mit­ted.

“This is it, ev­ery game is of great im­por­tance... we have to win ev­ery game, but right now we are not look­ing any fur­ther than the Lions. It is the big one.

“Dur­ing the sea­son there has been a lack of con­sis­tency from us in that we have played some great games and then some medi­ocre ones,” Du Preez added.

“But that is all in the past, it is fi­nals rugby for us now.”

The gaunt­let has been well and truly laid down for the vis­it­ing Lions and they will know that their in­cred­i­ble 21-match un­beaten run against SA op­po­si­tion (dat­ing back to 2015), is un­der se­vere threat, and it is of little con­se­quence that they have won seven in a row against the Sharks.

The Dur­ban­ites need no re­mind­ing of their se­quence of losses to the Lions and Bok hero Sbu Nkosi on Wed­nes­day re­marked: “We owe them one ... we have a point to prove af­ter los­ing some close ones.”

There have been a host of those for the Sharks but fresher in their mem­o­ries will be the first-round loss to the Lions and last year’s quar­ter-fi­nal de­feat to the same team, both at El­lis Park and both were matches that the Sharks seemed to have wrapped up.

In favour of the Sharks cor­rect­ing their im­bal­ance with the Lions is the fact that they have lost just one of their last six games in Dur­ban (won four and drawn one), in­clud­ing wins in each of their last three.

The Sharks may be opt­ing for “fi­nals” rugby, ac­cord­ing to their coach, but it is in­ter­est­ing to note that they have made the most off­loads per game in this year’s com­pe­ti­tion (13), while the Lions (six) have made the fewest, so we might yet see the Sharks spreading the ball to the likes of Nkosi, Maka­zole Mapimpi and Cur­win Bosch.

“We will have 14 Spring­boks in our match day squad,” Du Preez said of the qual­ity in his side.

“That tells the story that the guys have worked in­cred­i­bly hard. We have played some great rugby, and it is com­ing down to this weekend and this weekend only.

“Play­ing at home means we have no ex­cuses. Play­ing in front of our fans at home, with a fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment the whole week, helps men­tally.

“Now we have to put on a re­ally good per­for­mance.”


Sbusiso Nkosi will hope to be at his try-scor­ing best when the Sharks host the Lions in Dur­ban to­day.

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