The Sharks were back at training at Kings Park on Monday, savouring their convincing 27-10 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, but a far bigger challenge lies ahead this weekend when they take on the Chiefs, who were impressive in beating the Stormers 28-19 in Cape Town.
A backline featuring Sonny Bill Williams, Aaron Cruden and Tim Nanai-Williams is enough to turn defenders’ legs to jelly and Sharks assistant coach Sean Everitt was not sugar-coating the challenge on Monday.
“We are much happier after this past weekend, we haven’t performed quite as well as we’d wanted to, but going to Bloemfontein is never easy, so it was great to come back with a bonus-point win.
“But the Chiefs backline can score a lot of tries and the most important thing for us is to prevent them from attacking from turnovers, that’s when they can be really dangerous. The names say it all, Aaron Cruden, Sonny Bill Williams and the likes,” Everitt warned.
As the Chiefs showed against the Stormers, scoring from poorly-directed or inadequately-chased kicks is meat and drink for them, but Everitt said kicking would still be an important part of the Sharks’ game-plan.
“I think if you look at the stats, teams are losing games when they are playing too much rugby in their own half and not in the right areas of the field. So we want to get that right and ensure we take our opportunities when they arise.
“Against the Cheetahs, with the ball we had and the fact we didn’t want to play too much rugby in our own half because we were punished when we did that in the first round, it was part of our strategy to kick quite a bit. But we won that kicking battle I felt, territory counts for a lot, so it was part of our plan,” Everitt said.
Much of that success has been down to the brilliance of flyhalf Pat Lambie, whose confidence has just been growing exponentially since he kicked that last-minute penalty to beat the All Blacks last October.
“Pat is on top of his game, he’s fighting to go to the World Cup as the number one flyhalf. We’re very happy with how he’s going and his game management has been outstanding, and obviously with the leadership role he plays, he just keeps getting better and better,” Everitt said.
The one major negative to come out of the weekend, though, was the knee injury suffered by lock Pieter-Steph du Toit. Initial reports suggested the form second-rower will be out for eight months, having re-injured the same knee that kept him out for most of last year, which would take him beyond the end of the World Cup in October.
But Everitt said there was still a small element of hope for Du Toit, who went to see his specialist in Cape Town on Monday.
In terms of a replacement, there is zero chance of Stephan Lewies playing yet because he is still four weeks away from action as he recovers from knee and shoulder surgery, while Willem Alberts’ absence due to a hamstring strain has been put at two to three weeks.
Veteran Marco Wentzel is therefore likely to catch a start, with the “Giant”, Lubabalo Mtyanda, returning to the bench.
Loose forward Tera Mtembu and centre Paul Jordaan are the other players still on the injured list, while utility forward Etienne Oosthuizen, the former Brumbies player who Jake White brought to the Sharks, has returned to the training field.