Vodacom Super 14

Waratahs on Shark alert

2009-05-08 06:46
Michael Foley (File)

Durban - The Waratahs forwards face their stiffest challenge this year when they take on the might and muscle of the Sharks pack in a contest that may determine the finals fate of either side.

The Waratahs forwards have made huge inroads this year, more often than not getting the better of their opposition. But nothing matches the all-round strength and athleticism of their opposition on Saturday.

Waratahs forwards coach Michael Foley won't contemplate playing down the task - nor the dire ramifications should they fail to handle the job.

A loss will seriously hinder the chances of a semi-final berth for the fifth-placed Waratahs (on 32 points); whereas a win over the fourth-placed Sharks (35) will leapfrog them into the top four.

"It comes down to this game, for us as a team, as a forwards pack. If we want to progress to the next step of the competition then our forwards have to perform and our team has to perform," Foley said.

"The Sharks have one of the biggest packs in the competition, if not the biggest. They have a very athletic group of forwards and they are very proficient in key ares.

"I have seen them put pressure on any number of scrums that have stood up well over the last couple of years [such as] the Crusaders, the Chiefs. They also have a very good lineout. And while people probably don't realise it - the [new] laws haven't necessarily allowed for this - the Sharks have adapted very well to having a strong mauling game."

But Foley is not concerned that the Waratahs' pack is considerably lighter than the Sharks'.

"We give away a bit in terms of weight, but it won't be a significant thing for us. We have played bigger packs all year," he said. "The Bulls are an enormous pack. Any number of packs this year have been bigger than us, and we have found ways to cope with that.

"We haven't done it in a non-confrontational way. We have been very competitive with how we want to contest possession. We have attempted to be aggressive about that, as all forward packs should be and largely are."

While the Waratahs pack has shown that without Dan Vickerman, Rocky Elsom and David Lyons, who are all overseas, they can still be forceful, Foley is quick to remind of the Springbok calibre of the Sharks pack. "They pride themselves on set piece. They pick such big forwards. Their scrums are incredibly bulky," he said.

"Look throughout South Africa, even at teams that might not be on top of the tree like the Cheetahs, the lineout quality is always extremely high. Last week it was David de Villiers [Cheetahs]. Now it is Johann Muller."

Muller, the Sharks captain and second-rower, believes the winning side will be the one with the best eight. And he doesn't see the lack of bulk in the Waratahs pack giving his side an assistance. "They might be a little smaller, but they have done so well in the competition," Muller said. "The way they scrum and their lineout has been outstanding. Then they have players like Phil Waugh and [Wycliff] Palu at the back.

"With ball in hand [Palu] is absolutely brilliant. So is Phil Waugh with his ground play and stealing ball at the breakdown. There is nothing between the two packs of forwards."

If Muller sees one weakness for NSW, it is the experience lost with Vickerman, Elsom and Lyons gone. "Vickerman, last year in Super 14, was probably one of the best locks in the word, if not the best," Muller said. "He was consistently up there with not just the way he played but also in the lineouts.

"Losing a player like that, it is going to be tough. Rocky Elsom, we all know what a great player he is. Individuals have had to come in and step up. And I think they have, exceptionally well. You are always going to miss that experience, but they have shown there is definitely life after losing players like that."


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