Sharks to break 11-year duck?
Durban - It’s been 11 years since the Sharks last beat the Free State Cheetahs in a Currie Cup semi-final and they will be looking to put the record straight when they host their fifth consecutive semi-final this weekend against the Free Staters at Kings Park.
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Looking at the semi-final history between the teams from Durban and Bloemfontein, the Sharks actually lead by 4-3 since they first met in such a game way back in 1984.
On that day Natal, as they were known back then, advanced to the final when they beat Free State by 26-15 in Durban. They played in the B-section that year, but the tournament’s rules allowed the No 1 ranked team in the B-section to play the second placed A-section side in a semi-final. Natal went on to lose 19-9 to Western Province in the final at Newlands.
The Sharks were also victorious (against Free State) in 1996 (35-20), 1999 (45-8) and 2000 (29-15), with all these games being played at Kings Park in Durban. But since that game in 2000, the Sharks haven't managed to get one over the Cheetahs in a Currie Cup semi-final.
Free State won in 40-22 in 1997 in Durban, by 30-14 in 2006 in Bloemfontein and again by 23-21 in 2009 in Durban.
It’s the game from two seasons ago that would have Sharks coach John Plumtree sweating a little bit, as well as his team’s last match against the Cheetahs in this year's league phase, when the Cheetahs won easily by 53-32 in Bloemfontein.
“We will need to play really well to beat this Cheetahs side, it’s not a given if we just turn up and the players understand that because of the history between the two teams,” said Plumtree, who coached the Sharks to the Currie Cup crown in 2008 and 2010.
“(But) the pool stages are over and we know exactly what we need to do and we have an opportunity to contest the final again. We have had a proud history in this competition over the last four years and we want to be there to contest the final this year.
“We know we can if we play well enough. The players are very excited about the opportunity. We need to focus on what we need to do to get there.”
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské, who lifted the Currie Cup as a player (2005), team manager (shared in 2006) and coach (2007), said Saturday’s game will be a massive challenge for his young team, especially as the Sharks have been bolstered by no less than seven returning RWC Boks in Pat Lambie, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Willem Alberts, Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to get a young player to believe he can win against these players, so our biggest challenge this week has been to get our players to realise that it has happened before and it can happen again,” said Drotské.
“We will focus on defence, the breakdowns and playing from turned over possession and can’t afford to play for anything less than 80 minutes. Also, we have to ensure we close down their space and make our one on one tackles.”
15. Patrick Lambie, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Stefan Terblanche, 12. Marius Joubert, 11. JP Pietersen, 10. Frederic Michalak, 9. Conrad Hoffmann, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Keegan Daniel (captain), 5. Ross Skeate, 4. Jean Deysel/Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Craig Burden, 17. Eugene van Staden, 18. Marcell Coetzee, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Ross Cronje, 21. Adrian Jacobs, 22. Lwazi Mvovo
Free State Cheetahs:
15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Cameron Jacobs, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Ashley Johnson, 6 Pieter Labuschagne, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Philip van der Walt, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Marcel van der Merwe
Substitutes: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Johan Wessels, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Nico Scheepers