Rugby’s top of the ta­ble clash prom­ises to have it all

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - CRAIG LEWIS Live on M-Net and Su­perS­port 1 at 3pm

GRI­QUAS have been the ab­so­lute sur­prise pack­age of the Cur­rie Cup so far, but as the half­way mark in the sea­son ap­proaches, they now need to show that they are ca­pa­ble of sus­tain­ing their lev­els of per­for­mance through­out the sec­ond half of the com­pe­ti­tion.

The Sharks, mean­while, have been highly im­pres­sive over the last few weeks as they have over­come the loss of sev­eral key play­ers to Bok duty and in­jury, but they are also only too aware that the next month or so will al­most surely de­fine their sea­son.

This week­end’s

action, though, marks the end of the first round of the Cur­rie Cup pool matches and for the Sharks and Gri­quas, their clash this af­ter­noon will de­ter­mine who fin­ishes the first round in pole po­si­tion, and al­though the coastal fran­chise should feel qui­etly con­fi­dent that they can ex­e­cute that feat back on their home ground, they’ll also know that Gri­quas have ar­rived in Dur­ban on a mis­sion.

“They are a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish this year,” Sharks as­sis­tant coach Grant Bash­ford ad­mit­ted. “They’ve up­set a few teams and they’re play­ing the type of rugby that they can win wher­ever they go … from our per­spec­tive, they’re not top of the log for noth­ing. They’ve played all of the big teams now and they’re still top of the log, so they must be do­ing some­thing right. We cer­tainly have lots of re­spect for them.”

And al­though Gri­quas haven’t won a Cur­rie Cup en­counter in Dur­ban since 1998, they will feel that they have rarely been bet­ter placed than they are this year, with a close-knit group and five wins al­ready un­der the belt.

How­ever, the Sharks have the mo­men­tum af­ter three wins on the road and a winning habit well-es­tab­lished.

“We ob­vi­ously have a lot of re­spect for the Sharks’ abil­i­ties,” Gri­quas coach Dawie Theron said. “They are an ex­cel­lent, con­sis­tent, ex­pe­ri­enced unit and have done ex­cep­tion­ally well so far this sea­son. They have strength and power among the for­wards and backs and have been out­stand­ing on de­fence.”

This af­ter noon, though, there is no doubt the Sharks will be looking to keep the ball in hand and take play through the phases a bit more af­ter the Lions as­serted their as­cen­dancy in the ter­ri­tory and pos­ses­sion stakes last week­end.

Bash­ford said there was ob­vi­ously room for im­prove­ment on at­tack, but stressed that pos­i­tive signs had al­ready been ev­i­dent thus far this sea­son. “Un­for­tu­nately, our pos­ses­sion and ter­ri­tory stats were right down on the week­end but there are rea­sons for that which we’ve ad­dressed, but we’ve ac­tu­ally at­tacked quite well at times dur­ing this Cur­rie Cup. I’ve been quite im­pressed with how we’ve been pro­gress­ing with the new way we’re try­ing to play. It takes time, it evolves and each week we just need to keep get­ting bet­ter.”

How­ever, Gri­quas have the best at­tack­ing record this sea­son while the Sharks have been rock solid on de­fence and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see if those statis­tics re­flect on the field.

One won­ders whether Gri­quas’ nar­row loss to the Bulls last week was a tem­po­rary blip on the radar or has it bro­ken their spirit. This top-of-thetable clash prom­ises to have it all.

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