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    Sharks game: 4 key duels

    2014-07-17 12:25

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – A midfield match-up, the scrumhalves, the battle between the pilferers on the deck and an arm-wrestle at scrum-time come under focus as Sport24 pinpoints a quartet of areas that could tilt the balance between the Sharks and Highlanders.

    The teams meet in a Super Rugby finals series first-round knockout match at Kings Park on Saturday (17:05) and these are the individual contests Rob Houwing highlights for special attention ...

    No 13: JP Pietersen (Sharks) v Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders)

    Considering the sickening impact when co-Springboks Pietersen and Duane Vermeulen smacked heads in last weekend’s Newlands derby, it seems amazing that the former has passed the necessary concussion protocols. Clearly it was one of those incidents that looked worse than it actually was? Anyway, the lanky Sharks utility back -- finding his feet more and more in a reprisal this year of his midfield role -- will need to be in finest fettle both in body and spirit as he faces the crucial task of ensuring visiting powerhouse Fekitoa, now an All Black, doesn’t repeat the attacking mayhem of his last visit to Durban when the Otago side earned a shock but deserved 34-18 win. Certainly the home-town favourite has the physical prowess of his own to keep a lid on his direct opponent, although they were not head-to-head in the last game: on that occasion, Paul Jordaan was at 13 with Pietersen on the wing. If the Sharks have done their homework, they will know that you don’t give Fekitoa even a two-step start with ball in hand ...     

    No 9: Cobus Reinach (Sharks) v Aaron Smith (Highlanders)

    It is hardly a secret that Bok coach Heyneke Meyer still largely favours overseas-based scrumhalves (Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar) and if a local one gets a look-in, it’s most likely to be the Bulls’ Francois Hougaard. Here is a wonderful, genuinely big-game opportunity for the Sharks’ livewire, elusive Reinach to force his way much closer to the front of the SA pecking order. He is, happily, fit again after a niggle ruled him out at the eleventh hour against the Stormers last Saturday and it is no bad thing for his Test ambitions that he comes face to face here with lethal All Blacks No 9 Aaron Smith. Reinach is another player who was crocked when the Highlanders last came to KZN earlier in the campaign (seasoned Charl McLeod began in the berth), so Jake White will be hoping he makes a vital difference in the revenge quest. If the Highlanders opt for an adventurous approach to try to combat the Sharks’ anticipated forward dominance, Smith won’t be far from the fulcrum of it.   

    Nos 6/7: Marcell Coetzee (Sharks) v Shane Christie (Highlanders)

    Remembering that the NZ way is to field their fetcher in the No 7 jersey – we still make him the No 6 – the scrap between Coetzee and Christie should be worth the attendance fee alone. The former is bang in form after really getting under the skin of Schalk Burger and others in the Stormers ranks at Newlands, suffocating them with his bulldog commitment and slow-down skills at the breakdown, and in the tackle as well. But make no mistake, Christie is a formidable open-sider in his own right, and seldom been far from the top of the various relevant stats lists in Super Rugby this year. He might well be an international but for a Richie McCaw-led battery of ace fetchers in the New Zealand game.

    Nos 1/3: Thomas du Toit (Sharks) v Chris King (Highlanders)

    Hefty (122kg) Junior Springbok teenager and former Paarl Boys’ High front-row muscle man Du Toit has come into the Sharks’ starting XV of late through the absence of Tendai Mtawarira who was initially thought to be available again for this weekend. Unless the Sharks (who have done this before, of course!) are selling some selection red herrings, the incumbent now stays on for his biggest first-class challenge yet – a KO game in Super Rugby. He showed promising mettle against the Stormers, but it must also be kept in mind that here the most wet-behind-the-ears Sharks forward gets to grips at scrum-time with the Highlanders’ most experienced: 33-year-old tighthead Chris King. That’s a massive 14-year difference in age and knowledge, and Du Toit must know he needs to “man up”. In his favour is having the gnarly Du Plessis brothers alongside him in the Sharks front row.   

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  sharks super 15 jp pietersen rugby

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