Sharks wary of Cloete threat for Kings
Cape Town - The Sharks are mindful of the threat that Chris Cloete will pose when they meet the Kings at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
It is an intriguing Super Rugby encounter.
The Kings, expected to be chopped from next year's competition as part of SANZAAR's re-restructuring of the tournament, are experiencing a season high after successive wins against the Waratahs and the Rebels.
It may be a case of too little too late, but coach Deon Davids and his men have shown significant improvement over the past few weeks and have already been a far more successful franchise than they were last season.
They have won three and lost six - the same 2017 record held by the 2007, 2009 and 2010 Super Rugby champions, the Bulls.
And that record could have been even better had things gone slightly differently when the sides met in Durban back on March 18.
The Sharks emerged 19-17 victors that day, but the Kings would have been disappointed after the usually reliable Lionel Cronje missed a penalty in the final minutes that would have sealed a memorable victory.
The Sharks dominated possession and territory, but a resolute Kings defence and a lack of execution on attack meant that they couldn't turn their pressure into points.
Lock Stephan Lewies remembers that game well, and he recalls that the Sharks paid special attention to Cloete.
"We know Chris well. He's from here," Lewies said in Durban on Tuesday.
"He's very strong and very good on the floor. He gets in low and it's hard to get him off the ball. We've trained hard to counter that.
"I think we did it well in the first game against them ... we took him out of the game.
"The focus is the same. We want to focus on our game more than them, but definitely it is a threat."
Cloete has been in superb form for the Kings this season, to the point where he has become very much a part of the Springbok conversation ahead of the June internationals against France.
He is a classic fetcher - a position where the Boks do not have many options at their disposal - and he is immense in the physical exchanges.
For now, though, Cloete will be focused on delivering another match-winning performance for the Kings.
The Sharks have returned to winning ways with victories over the Jaguares and Western Force since their woeful 9-9 draw against the Rebels in Durban.
Lewies knows that the performance of the Sharks pack is key to the side's continued improvement.
"It's always the talk that the forwards have to lay the platform in any rugby game ... if the forwards do well and lay the platform and if your set piece functions well, it makes it easier for the backs," he said.
"I think even more so in our team where we have a younger backline. We want to take the leadership. We enjoy taking that leadership and giving them that platform. With Pat (Lambie) back it makes it easier as well.
"We spoke about continuous improvement. We want to get better every game and this week we want take it another step up.
"We want to dominate in the loose ... they're very good on the ground. We want to have clear rucks and quick ball and that comes from the forwards."
Kick-off on Saturday is at 17:15.