Johannesburg - Finding a way to shut down the influence of Free State Cheetahs scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius appears to be a top Sharks priority in the build-up to Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against their old bogey team at Growthpoint Kings Park.
According to the supersport.com website, Pretorius has of course long been a thorn to opposition teams for his individual brilliance and ability to break a game apart with a moment of inspired genius, but there were also times when he was too individualistic and it cost him his place in starting teams both at the Cheetahs and in his season at the Waratahs.
However, Pretorius, who is playing his Currie Cup rugby out of Bloemfontein these days after moving down the N8 from Kimberley, is better fitting into the team pattern now that the coaches have adjusted the game to suit his strengths, and it is something the Sharks have picked up on.
“We all know the Cheetahs pose a threat in terms of the way they use the width of the field so well, but they have also adapted their game by playing less off the flyhalf and more off the No9, so Sarel is starting to pose a real threat around the rucks,” said Sharks captain Keegan Daniel at the weekly briefing with the Durban rugby media.
Like the Sharks coaches, the No 8 believes the Cheetahs are a different proposition now that they have their two Bok strong-men, Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen, back in tow.
“Just as our front-row is strong, so is theirs. Leadership makes a big difference, so getting Adriaan Strauss back is a big boost for them as it brings stability. And it is the same with Coenie as he carries the ball and brings stability to the scrum.”
But while the Sharks clearly respect the Cheetahs as opponents and are working hard at negating their strengths and the threats that they will pose, they are not being drawn in by the talk of the Cheetahs being their bogey team.
“We’ve managed to get the better of the Cheetahs quite a lot in recent years so while they used to be our bogey team, I don’t think that is the case anymore,” said Daniel.
Indeed, the Sharks have won 10 of their last 12 Currie Cup games against the Cheetahs, and the last time they came to Kings Park they were thrashed 50-26. However, in a Super Rugby game in April, when admittedly the Cheetahs are a stronger unit because of the inclusion of Griquas players like Willie le Roux, the Cheetahs did win a tight game and the Sharks won’t have forgotten that.
The Durban union will name their team on Thursday but there is no secret about what it will look like as the coaches have been quite open about their intention to recall Springbok Frans Steyn to the No 12 jersey, with Louis Ludik being installed alongside him. With Patrick Lambie set to start at flyhalf, it means there will be wholesale change to the backline, which some may see as a risk at this stage of the season.
However, the Sharks have been rotating through the Currie Cup and yet they managed to win enough games to finish second to Western Province on the final log standings, so the smart money should be on the new players coming in seamlessly and there being little disruption to the Sharks’ onfield continuity.