Sharks clash: 4 top tussles
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – A glance at the respective line-ups for
Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final between the Crusaders and Sharks in
Christchurch shows serious quality right across the park.
Many people who do not follow the competition too
religiously might, in fact, be deceived into thinking it’s a match-day sheet
for a clash between the All Blacks and Springboks.
But there may be some
areas where specific one-on-ones could play a strong role in tilting the
balance, even if the Crusaders are the bookies’ favourites.
Here is a Sport24 quartet
of red-hot duels ...
Frans Steyn v Dan
Primary New Zealand rugby pin-up figure Carter, for so long
acknowledged as the world’s standout No 10, may be starting to subconsciously
believe he’s actually a bread-and-butter inside centre! He’s increasingly no
stranger to the slot, as the ‘Saders opt to keep Colin Slade at flyhalf, and of
course his range of footballing skills is so broad that he can do the job
comfortably. Carter will have his hands full from a physical perspective, perhaps,
policing that brawny and direct Sharks unit Steyn at twelve: the latter is
arguably in his most suitable berth, even if his own credentials closer to the
action are perfectly sound. This duel will be fascinating viewing ... even if
the bulk of it may take place in the first half if Pat Lambie – making a first
start in months – gradually runs out of gas at No 10 and his seasoned team-mate
shifts closer in. Psst, if this is a really tight semi, might the known, huge
range on Steyn’s place-kicks become a key factor?
Cobus Reinach v Andy
I have made reference to both the No 10s and 12s already,
but just as important on Saturday might well be how these vital scrumhalf “link
men” fare against each other. Crusaders stalwart Ellis has the edge in experience
– this is his ninth year on their Super Rugby books -- which can always be
useful in high-stakes games like this one. Tremendous athlete Reinach is
fighting to convince Bok coach Heyneke Meyer of his Test credentials, though he
probably stalled them a tad against the Highlanders last weekend when some of
his exit tactics and poor kicking under pressure earned the noticeable,
animated wrath of skipper Bismarck du Plessis! Jake White may have been tempted
to prefer Charl McLeod’s street-wisdom for this fixture ... but he hasn’t, a
heartening vote of confidence for the strengths and X-factor he knows nippy
Reinach can bring to the party on a good day. It would be handy if Saturday was
one of those.
Marcell Coetzee v
This could just as easily have read, of course: “Coetzee
versus Todd and Richie McCaw”. The Sharks open-sider will have his work cut out
(though he positively thrives on heavy workload and pressure, it seems) in the
pilfering and “slow-down” battle at ruck time as the ‘Saders have basically
named two specialist fetchers. It seems Todd will wear the traditional (at
least outside SA) No 7 jersey for that role, with steely, fit-again veteran
McCaw playing on the blind side. Mind you, the hosts taking this route may also
be influenced by the knowledge that the Sharks do have a huge “second element”
themselves in the scavenging stakes in the shape of the Battleship Bismarck at
hooker: Du Plessis is simply immense at upright turnovers, where he wrestles
the ball out of surprised opponents’ hands even as they think they are making
good yards for the rival cause. Somehow, despite often punishing amounts of
rugby in 2014, both Coetzee and Du Plessis have kept their form and lustre.
Another mighty effort at AMI Stadium, chaps?
Stephan Lewies v Sam
More and more, the lanky Lewies is beginning to look like a
worthy heir apparent to Victor Matfield for South African excellence as a No 5
lineout jumper. It is reflected in his statistics this season: the rookie tops
the overall pile for safe pouches, apparently with 77. He will want to add to
that tally after being a late withdrawal against the Highlanders last weekend.
Mind you, he will know he can’t expect an easy ride here: in opposition is
spring-heeled All Black Whitelock, one of the very best in the
middle-of-lineout business. A little surprisingly, Whitelock lies 10th
on the stats chart for recorded takes (47) this season, but never forget that
ace grabbers are also used effectively as decoys sometimes. By retaining Ryan
Kankowski, who took over the senior Sharks mantle in this department last
Saturday to terrific effect at times, the visitors have another potential ace
up their sleeves, both on Sharks ball and the ‘Saders throw-in.
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