Cheetahs a banana peel for Sharks?

    2016-07-06 11:30

    Lloyd Burnard - Sport24

    Cape Town - On paper, the Sharks are overwhelming favourites for their Super Rugby clash against the Cheetahs in Durban on Saturday. 

    But that won’t matter in a match that has the potential to make or break their season. 

    Gary Gold’s men are currently three points ahead of the Bulls with two rounds of fixtures remaining before the playoffs, and one of those sides is set to book a quarter-final spot while the other will pack up for the year in a little over a week from now. 

    The Bulls host the Sunwolves on Saturday in a match they will surely win, and then they travel to Bloemfontein on the final weekend as the Sharks host the Japanese outfit. 

    So, it is safe to presume that if the Sharks get the win over the Cheetahs this weekend they will have done enough to progress to the last eight. 

    Sharks fans will hardly be losing any sleep over hosting the Cheetahs, but they might be advised not to take anything for granted just yet.

    On the opening weekend of Super Rugby 2015 the Cheetahs stunned the Sharks at King's Park, winning 35-29 with a bonus point. 

    It didn't really kick-start anything, though, as the Cheetahs finished the season bottom of the South African Conference with just 5 wins. 

    They have not been much better in 2016. 

    While they continue to look a dangerous attacking unit, the Cheetahs are still too porous defensively. 

    That said, they have improved their defensive record significantly. Nobody conceded more tries than the Cheetahs in 2015 (65 from 16 matches) but this year they have conceded 41 tries in 13 matches. 

    That still leaves an average of more than three tries per game and it remains Smith's biggest obstacle in his endeavour to turn the Cheetahs into a consistently competitive side. 

    The Sharks, meanwhile, have been extremely solid defensively. 

    Despite shipping five tries against the Lions on Saturday, they still boast the best defensive record in the competition having conceded just 25 tries (though they now share that honour with the Stormers and Highlanders). 

    But on attack the stats are less impressive. 

    The Sharks have scored just 32 tries this season - 12 less than the Cheetahs. 

    The other major factor working against the Sharks is the continued absence of Pat Lambie. 

    The playmaker was a part of the side that lost to the Cheetahs in Durban last year, but his experience and composure is being missed at this crucial stage. 

    Garth April has been an - at times - effective replacement, but his performance in the 37-10 hammering at Ellis Park last weekend was poor. 

    April missed tackles, missed touch, dropped balls and kicked aimlessly in a first half that ultimately saw the Lions disappear out of touch. 

    Most worrying was that April looked a little shell-shocked when things weren't going according to plan. 

    That will come with experience and in April's defence he was up against comfortably the best team in the country, but despite this Saturday's match being against lesser opposition it is of even more importance. 

    It is a big day for April, and he must be far more consistent and measured than he was against the Lions.

    The big question is this: If the Sharks go behind by a couple of tries early on, will they have the firepower to claw their way back? 

    Willie le Roux - one of the Sharks' major attacking threats - is also out injured. 

    The Sharks need to start well and quickly eliminate any nervous tension that may be hovering over King's Park on Saturday. 

    If they do that, then they should progress comfortably.

    If they don’t, then it could prove to be an uneasy evening in Durbs. 

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