Highlanders expect Durban ‘siege’

    2014-07-16 05:00

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Employ a siege mentality to upset the more fancied Sharks in Saturday’s Super Rugby knockout clash at Kings Park, a member of the Highlanders squad who beat the Stormers in a 1999 semi-final at Newlands has advised.

    Speaking to the Otago Daily Times, loose forward Kelvin Middleton warned the class of 2014: “They (the home spectators) are very close to the ground there in Durban and very vocal.

    “You get into a siege mentality ... you use that to make you play better.”

    That 1999 game, played before a near-50 000 full house in the heyday of the “Men in Black” era in Cape Town and with the hosts heavily tipped to prevail, was the last occasion in which the Highlanders have won a knockout fixture in South Africa.

    They came from 11-0 down to triumph 33-18 and dramatically snuff out the glow of a hitherto memorable campaign by a side led by Bob Skinstad and then Corné Krige.

    Middleton told the New Zealand newspaper the 1999 side went into a siege mentality for the fixture, and that he anticipated the latest group doing the same.

    “It was one heck of an experience ... we were up against the odds. The South Africans did their best to try to intimidate us.

    “When we got off the bus (at Newlands) we had to fight through the crowd and there was plenty of pushing and they were pulling our bags ... it was a torrid start to the game.

    “We went into it with the approach that we had nothing to lose and you can go that extra mile.”

    Middleton said the long-haul travel issue for the Highlanders should not be too great a hindrance.

    “Things are so professional now ... you’re flying business class the whole way and getting checked and monitored the whole time.”

    He also believes the game being played at sea level, as was the case in 1999, will help make the visitors’ task a little less formidable.

    “If it was up at Loftus it would be a lot different; that would be way harder.”

    One thing Middleton may have overlooked in his recollection of the 1999 match was that on the morning of the semi, rugby writer Mark Keohane – then of Weekend Argus -- had broken the story of a bonus dispute between the Stormers players and management and the attached possibility of a revolt.

    Whether that affair had an effect on the favourites’ performance a few hours later remains a matter of speculation to this day.

    Presumably there will be no such ructions in the Sharks camp on Saturday ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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