Cape Town - Called the Sharks’ bogey team a couple of years ago, the Cheetahs will start their season by hosting the 2012 runners up at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein before flying to Hamilton to face the defending champion Chiefs next weekend.
That has to rate as one of the toughest opening fortnights to the competition for any team, but it’s a challenge that Naka Drotské, Cheetahs coach, and his team are looking forward to, despite the fact that they had not beaten the Sharks in their last four encounters.
Add to that the Cheetahs’ dismal record in opening round matches - they have only won one from seven since making their Super Rugby debut in 2006, and that was in 2007 against the Stormers in Bloemfontein (27-9) - combined with the Sharks’ three wins at the Free State Stadium in their four matches there, and it’s clear that the home team is facing an uphill battle on Saturday.
“We believe that we can beat any team in Bloemfontein,” said Drotské.
“This is a very important game for us, because on Sunday we get on a plane and leave on a four-week tour. We know the importance of starting well and it will relieve a lot of early-season pressure if we can leave Bloem with a win under our belts.
“We’ve worked very hard since last November and most of our key players are fit. But it’s a very tough start to the competition for us, against the two finalists from 2012. Yes, the players set the standards last year by accumulating 11 points on tour, but leaving after a win will be so much easier.” John Plumtree
, coach of the Sharks, said his team learnt last year that they needed to be a bit faster out of the blocks.
In 2012, the KwaZulu-Natalians lost four of their first seven matches. They finished strongly and qualified for the playoffs in the sixth place, but had to travel to Brisbane and Cape Town before losing in the final in Hamilton. In the end, the rigorous travel schedule was too much for Plum
“What we learned last year is that you need to get off to a good start and maintain some momentum through the competition to avoid the travel factor at the end,” said Plum
“The Stormers have won the conference in the last couple of years and that’s the easiest route to the final. This is a conference game on the weekend and we have put a huge emphasis on the conference games.
“We want to win every game, although that’s quite hard in Super Rugby. These conference games are hugely important and I’m sure all the South African franchises are talking about that.”Plum
tree admitted the Cheetahs team played a role in his final selection for Saturday: “The way the Cheetahs play influenced a lot of the selections, they have a lot of speed and genuine threats in their backline and we have to be able to match that defensively.”
The clash kick off at 17:05 on Saturday.Teams:
15. Hennie Daniller, 14. Willie le Roux, 13. Johann Sadie, 12. Robert Ebersohn, 11. Raymond Rhule, 10. Johan Goosen, 9. Piet van Zyl, 8. Philip van der Walt, 7. Lappies Labuschagne, 6. Frans
Viljoen, 5. Francois Uys, 4. Lood de Jager, 3. Lourens Adriaanse, 2. Adriaan Strauss
(captain), 1. Trevor Nyakane
Substitutes: 16. Ryno Barnes, 17. Coenie Oosthuizen
, 18. Waltie Vermeulen, 19. Boom Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius
, 21. Elgar Watts, 22. Ryno BenjaminSharks:
15. Louis Ludik, 14. JP Pietersen
, 13. Paul Jordaan 12. Francois Steyn
(captain), 11. Lwazi Mvovo
, 10. Patrick Lambie
, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Ryan Kankowski
, 7. Marcell Coetzee
, 6. Jacques Botes
, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Meyer Bosman
, 22. Odwa Ndungane