A dangerous Toyota Cheetahs side are standing in the way of the Cell C Sharks starting their new era on a winning note when the two neighbouring franchises start their Vodacom SuperRugby campaigns at Kings Park on Saturday.
New Sharks coach Gary Gold has been preaching pragmatism ahead of the match, particularly since the Cheetahs are highly adept at punishing mistakes and he doesn’t want his players getting ahead of themselves in their efforts to play more entertaining rugby.
“The danger comes with those expectations and I don’t want the players believing that it will be easy, especially since the Cheetahs have been a bit of a nemesis for the Sharks. The way they play – they’re not conservative – means they are hard to manage.
“If we’re not on top of our game then we’ll get beaten. We need to give them respect and play properly. They’re a good team, with mobile forwards, experienced halfbacks and plenty of danger at the back. They are very capable of punishing mistakes so we need to play with some pragmatism, it’s going to be a really tough game,” Gold warned.
It seems all the talk of playing running rugby and scoring tries will have to be put aside for the time being, the intense humidity at this time of year in Durban making the ball difficult to handle, with the Sharks looking to use their obvious strength in the tight five to lay the platform.
“We need the tight five to step up and get us ascendancy in the set-pieces. That’s critical for us when conditions are going to make it hard to move the ball around,” Gold confirmed to The Citizen on Friday.
The draining effects of the sapping humidity also counts against a free-flowing game, but the Cheetahs are the sort of side that will be waiting to pounce on the slightest of chances to counter-attack.
There is the ball-stealing threat of Coenie Oosthuizen, the sniping runs of Sarel Pretorius and the trickery of Willie le Roux for the Sharks to worry about, while the Cheetahs have made up for the loss of Johan Goosen at flyhalf by selecting the experienced former Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen.
Sharks: 15-SP Marais, 14-S’bura Sithole, 13-Waylon Murray, 12-Heimar Williams, 11-Lwazi Mvovo, 10-Pat Lambie, 9-Cobus Reinach, 8-Tera Mtembu, 7-Renaldo Bothma, 6-Marcell Coetzee, 5-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4-Mouritz Botha, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements – 16-Kyle Cooper, 17-Dale Chadwick, 18-Matt Stevens, 19-Marco Wentzel, 20-Jean Deysel, 21-Conrad Hoffmann, 22-Fred Zeilinga, 23-Odwa Ndungane.
Cheetahs: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Clayton Blommetjies, 13-Francois Venter, 12-Michael van der Spuy, 11-Raymond Rhule, 10-Joe Pietersen, 9-Sarel Pretorius, 8-Willie Britz, 7-Teboho Mohoje, 6-Jean Cook, 5-Francois Uys, 4-Lood de Jager, 3-Coenie Oosthuizen, 2-Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1-Danie Minnie. Replacements – 16-Stephan Coetzee, 17- BG Uys, 18-Maks van Dyk, 19-Carl Wegner, 20-Boom Prinsloo, 21-Tian Meyer, 22-Willie du Plessis, 23-Cornal Hendricks.