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    Sharks hope for stale ‘Saders

    2014-07-23 11:47
    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Hardly unsurprisingly, both away teams in Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-finals are reasonably clear-cut underdogs ... but the hands of the Sharks and Brumbies do possibly contain at least one or two favourable cards. Or they must believe they do.

    Those sides face the unenviable respective tasks of beating the Crusaders in Christchurch (09:35) and Waratahs in Sydney (11:40).

    So much, and so obviously, seems in favour of the hosts in the two clashes at this advanced stage of the hugely arduous campaign.

    Although there has been the odd exception to the rule, the Waratahs and Crusaders ending first and second on the ordinary-season table presents an automatic semis advantage of significant proportions under the conference formula.

    This is a time of the year, after months of Super Rugby slog and also the residual effect of a jam-packed June Test “window” – an inappropriate description if ever there was one – when a rest weekend ahead of a semi is an asset, on paper, to be treasured like gold.

    It’s like getting the best two slots on the starting grid for a Grand Prix at a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult, given that both the ‘Tahs and ‘Saders had the satisfaction of putting their feet up last weekend to watch this weekend’s opponents have to fend off other teams (fairly narrowly in each instance) in a preliminary round of finals series fare.

    As if that wasn’t bad enough, the winning teams’ “reward” is a move onward to semis on hostile terrain.

    In the case of the Sharks, who ended above the Brumbies in ordinary season, they are perversely more penalised in many respects because they have had to fly across time zones yet again for their fixture.

    For the Brumbies, at least their trip is an altogether simpler, less fatiguing one: a three-and-a-half-hour drive, and only some 285km, for the Sydney derby against the comfortably log-topping Waratahs.

    But if there is one potential ally for both visiting teams, it is that for all the smugness of their foes’ smooth finals series draw, it has exposed them to the possibilities of staleness taking some kind of hold on Saturday’s match-day.

    How often, after all, don’t you hear Super Rugby coaches, across the three conferences, lamenting the “rustiness” they perceive their troops to have had if they’ve lost a game (or at least not had things all their own way) a week after the supposed, refreshing benefit of a bye?

    “Our lineout precision wasn’t as sharp as it should have been,” or “we battled a bit with our scrum engagement in this game” and “we lost our backline shape”... those are the sort of rugby clichés, if you like, that get trotted out from time to time at post-game press conferences.

    So yes, occasionally coaches, and often not without some justification, do warn of the minor down side of swinging back into action after an idle week.

    We all know that several of the Sharks squad, especially, are running on reserve batteries at this point, and let’s not kid ourselves: they’d have eagerly chosen a bye last weekend if they had only been in the position to secure it.

    But they might do well to try to convince themselves, as a motivational tool, that having a game a week before a high-pressure semi isn’t all bad: their “accuracies” may just be a tad more polished than the Crusaders’ as a result.

    A quick examination of the records this season, after their two stipulated bye weekends, of the Christchurch semi-finalists on Saturday does reveal that it wasn’t completely plain sailing for them.

    The Crusaders, for example, lost once and won once after byes –and the defeat was a slightly unexpected 29-26 home one against the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium, scene of this week’s semi.

    Rubbing further salt in that day was the fact that the ‘Canes even did it with a four-try bonus point. 

    The Sharks, admittedly, were OK: coincidentally both their post-bye clashes came against limited compatriots the Lions (eventually 12th overall), and they won 37-23 in Durban with a late-secured bonus point and then 25-12 in Johannesburg although the latter was far from a classic, featuring only one try all game via Lwazi Mvovo.

    You might argue that it would be clutching at straws for the Sharks and Brumbies to honestly believe that having turned out last weekend will work decisively in their favour as they try their “David” acts on home-town Goliaths.

    A counter argument might be: in the face of adversity, and when there isn’t an awful lot else to take genuinely big hope from, why on earth not see some blessings in it?

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  sharks super 15 lwazi mvovo rugby

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    Fixtures

    13 February 2015
    • Crusaders v Melbourne Rebels, Christchurch 08:35
    • Brumbies v Reds, Canberra 10:40
    • Lions v Hurricanes, Johannesburg 19:10
    14 February 2015
    • Blues v Chiefs, Albany 08:35
    • Sharks v Cheetahs, Durban 17:05
    • Bulls v Stormers, Pretoria 19:10
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    • Waratahs v Western Force, Sydney 07:05

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