Sharks will bite back

De­fence coach in­sists his team will be a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal in the Lions’ den

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MIKE GREENAWAY

WHERE there is life, there is hope and there will be Sharks fa­nat­ics out there pray­ing for a mir­a­cle when their team vis­its El­lis Park on Satur­day, hop­ing to spring one of the great Su­per Rugby up­sets of all time.

Seven days be­fore, the same Sharks team had been com­pletely out played in Dur­ban by a Lions side that had barely moved out of sec­ond gear. They did not have to. The Sharks were poor and seemed re­signed to the fact that they were go­ing to lose and thus have the “re­ward” of play­ing the first-placed Lions in Jo­han­nes­burg, rather than play the Cru­saders in Christchurch.

Can the Sharks hon­estly be­lieve they can turn things around in seven days?

“I think we can,” de­fence coach Ryan Strud­wick said. “We did not play well at the week­end, we all know that, but a knock-out game is a very dif­fer­ent prospect.

“The whole sce­nario changes. This is a quar­ter-fi­nal and it is do or die.”

Strud­wick said that the Sharks play­ers cer­tainly did not play badly against the Lions on pur­pose and the first half-an-hour of the game showed that.

The Sharks were com­mit­ted on de­fence but as the half-time hooter sounded, they suf­fered a sucker punch try to give the Lions the half-time lead, and it was down­hill from there.

“There was not much rid­ing on the week­end’s game but there is ob­vi­ously ev­ery­thing to play for this week­end and we are con­fi­dent that we will pick it up,” Strud­wick said.

“The whole psy­chol­ogy of the game changes this week.”

The for­mer Sharks lock said that it was not only a sub-con­scious thing for the Sharks play­ers last week in that it was not in their in­ter­ests to win.

“I think it was also in the front of their minds in the sec­ond half,” Strud­wick said. “In the first half we played some good rugby and de­fended well but when the chips were down it was al­most like the guys knew that the real game was go­ing to be at El­lis Park the fol­low­ing week.”

In the end, the Sharks slipped 38 tack­les, by some mar­gin their worst de­fen­sive ef­fort of the year.

“That is very dis­ap­point­ing but the pos­i­tive from it is that these were mostly one-on-on tack­les that can be fixed eas­ily with the play­ers hav­ing the right at­ti­tude. It was not a team is­sue,” Strud­wick said.

There will be many who feel the Sharks are clutch­ing at straws but Strud­wick in­sists that the Sharks will be a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal this time around. “We are not pan­ick­ing. We have done our home­work. Yes the Lions scored good tries but they came from our er­rors, and we gave them too many penal­ties,” the coach said.

“They had the ma­jor­ity of pos­ses­sion and ter­ri­tory but we will not be so char­i­ta­ble this time and will hold onto the ball.

“We can’t go into this game with the same at­ti­tude as last week. This is knock-out rugby, it is about play­ing for inches and we need to be more clin­i­cal and com­posed,” Strud­wick said.

“Psy­cho­log­i­cally, we have raised our­selves against the big­ger teams this sea­son, as was the case when we played the Lions at El­lis Park in the first round. Few will give us a chance but we be­lieve we can win.”

Hope does, in­deed, springs eter­nal.

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