The Sharks have had their share of difficult times in the forward battle and it will be a tough day at the office for them if they don’t match Western Province up front in their Currie Cup semifinal at Newlands on Saturday.
Skipper Lukhanyo Am, however, says they are confident they will have put in the work required for at least parity come the weekend.
The Sharks pack showed their ability when they enjoyed the upper hand up front when ending the Bulls’ unbeaten run in mid-December, but they have also been beaten in the forward battle by the Lions and the Free State Cheetahs.
Importantly, that was when tighthead prop Thomas du Toit was not in action, and the World Cup winner is shaping to be a key player on Saturday as he takes on South Africa’s No 1 loosehead prop in Steven Kitshoff, although it was learned on Tuesday that the flame-haired Bok front-ranker is still subject to “in contact” Covid protocols before being cleared to play.
“We know what Western Province’s strengths are, their set-piece has been dominant and they’ve proven it right through the competition,” Am said on Tuesday.
“But we are working on ourselves mainly, to strengthen the parts of our game where we feel we are lacking. But if we can get our own set-piece and challenge them on theirs, then it’s going to be an exciting game to watch.”
Lock Ruben van Heerden was also painting a picture of how determined the Sharks are to match Western Province, and their all-Springbok front row, up front.
“Western Province have a very strong lineout, scrum and maul, we know what they will bring, but we are very well prepared and up to the challenge. At this level, everyone is strong and shows up on the day really wanting to play, so it comes down to technique to nullify what gives them their strength – momentum in the lineout, scrums and mauls. But we are very confident we can nullify that,” Van Heerden said.
And if the Sharks pack can gain parity up front, then they have the backline to take advantage and a general at flyhalf in Curwin Bosch, who can move them around the park most efficiently.
While the 23-year-old Springbok is indisputably KwaZulu-Natal’s No 1 flyhalf, Western Province have shuffled from Damian Willemse to Tim Swiel as their pivot this season.
“Curwin is incredibly influential for us, he’s our playmaker and crucial to the way we want to play,” Van Heerden said.
“As a forward, it makes your job so much easier when you have a flyhalf who can put you on the front foot and put the ball in the right areas. I’m not sure about Western Province’s situation at flyhalf, but that’s not our problem,” added the big lock.
Captain Am also knows he can rely on his flyhalf.
“Curwin is a key player, our golden boot and he really puts us in the right areas. We back his kicking abilities whether in-hand or off the tee and he really gives us confidence. Our approach probably won’t be as flashy in the semifinal as it is in other games, we’ll definitely be trying to put the ball in the right areas, and knowing he can slot whatever penalties we get means we are in a good place,” Am said.