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Sharks upbeat ahead of second Lions clash

The Cell C Sharks will look to right the wrongs of last weekend’s defeat to the Lions when they meet in the quarterfinals of the 2017 Super Rugby competition.

Ryan Strudwick
Gallo Images/Steve Haag

As fate would have it, the Lions’ 27-10 victory over the Sharks saved the Durban outfit a trip to New Zealand this week. The result setup a second consecutive clash between the two South African teams – giving the Sharks an opportunity of revenge and run into the last four of the competition.

Coach Rob du Preez and his support staff will be unpacking their defeat on Saturday, looking at every aspect of the game to find a way to beat the Lions.

Similarly the Lions will be looking to cut out some of the errors they made – knowing that the luxury of playing at home will also be a welcome advantage this coming Saturday.

In hindsight, the final round robin match of the tournament was a dead-rubber for the Sharks. Heading into the game, the plain truth was that a loss would afford the Durban outfit their best route of the knockout stages. A trip to Johannesburg is far less taxing than a 30 hour trip to New Zealand – and it could prove to be decisive this weekend.

Sharks defence coach Ryan Strudwick seemed confident that his charges can bounce back from the weekend’s defeat with a lot more at stake in their second bite at the cherry.

“I think we can. We didn’t perform well on the weekend but we know where we went wrong. There wasn’t much in that game and we have everything to play for this coming weekend. We’re confident the guys will pick it up,” Strudwick said on Monday.

“I don’t even know if it was subconscious, it was definitely in their minds. You could tell, in the first half we really came out and played some good rugby and defended well without the ball. But when the chips were down in the second half, it was almost like the guys knew the real game would be next week in Joburg.”

Despite the apparent lack of attitude and effort, there seems to be an air of confidence around Kings Park ahead of the knockouts. Strudwick believes that a more clinical display, both on attack and defence, will be enough to beat the hosts this coming Saturday.

“We know the Lions are a good attacking side and they play a really exciting brand of rugby. We have done our homework, we’re not panicking, yes they scored some good tries but a lot of their opportunities came from our errors. We gave them a lot of ball, gave away a lot of penalties and they had the lion’s share of the territory and possession. We can’t go into this game with the same attitude and we need to hold onto the ball a bit better.

“Everyone knows that in a knockout anything can happen – it’s about inches and those little errors that can cost you dearly. Hopefully we can cut those errors out that have cost us and be more clinical and composed.” 

As they prepare for a potential finale in the competition, the Sharks will take confidence in some of the better performances they produced against some of the Super Rugby heavyweights. They also haven’t forgotten the disappointment of their loss to the Lions earlier this year at Ellis Park – where they were arguably robbed by a few questionable decisions.

“Throughout the season, we’ve performed well against the bigger teams in the competition. When we played up in Joburg the first time we played really well and we were a bit unlucky with some of those decisions that went against us. The guys aren’t going in there thinking we’re up against it, they’re going in full of confidence and the belief that we can win,” Strudwick insisted.

Defence will be key if the Sharks are to march into the last four of the competition – as knockout rugby is decided by the smallest of margins and the best defences.

The Sharks will also be looking to make up for what was their poorest defensive effort of the competition last Saturday.

“The first 20 minutes we defended well but as the game wore on, we started slipping tackles and it was our worst tackle completion this whole season – we missed 38 tackles in total. We were only at 83 percent and normally we’re at 90. That was a concern but they were all individual, one-on-one errors. It’s easy to fix, mostly just an attitude and commitment issue.”

Super Rugby quarterfinals:

Brumbies vs Hurricanes (Friday, 11h45)

Crusaders vs Highlanders (Saturday, 09h35)

Lions vs Sharks (Saturday, 14h30) 

Stormers vs Chiefs (Saturday, 17h00)

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