Jacques van der Westhuyzen

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen

Head of Sport

URC preview: Time for Sharks to show their teeth

It is a Sharks team packed with Springbok players and they must now show what they are made of with URC quarter-finals places on the line.

It is time to deliver.

Having paid handsomely to lure some of South Africa’s biggest rugby stars to Durban and the Sharks in the last two years, it is time for the players and coach Neil Powell to pay back the faith shown in them by their employers.

If the truth be told and considering the depth in the squad and the quality of players wearing the black and white jersey, the Sharks have underperformed in recent times. Some might say they have been a flop.

And not even the recruitment of the likes of Bongi Mbonambi, Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Tshituka, Carlu Sadie and others, have turned things in the Sharks’ favour.

Playoffs place at stake

Like all the South African teams, they bombed out of the Champions Cup in the quarter-final stages last weekend (to Toulouse) and go into the penultimate round of the URC this weekend, against Benetton at Kings Park in Durban tonight (6.30pm), in a fight to make the playoffs.

Powell’s team are eighth in the standings with 41 points, thanks to eight wins from 16 matches, and being chased by Benetton, ninth and 40 points, Cardiff, 10th and 39 points, and the Lions, 11th and 38 points.

The Sharks’ last league game next weekend, also in Durban, is against Munster, who’re currently fifth on the log.

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With two games to come at home, the Sharks’ URC destiny is in their own hands. They simply need to win both, with bonus points, to ensure a top eight finish and then hope for the best in the knockout rounds.

But even then, a Sharks team packed with Boks should expect to go abroad or to Cape Town and win. But, that is a discussion for later. For now, the Sharks need to stand up and produce the goods against Benetton.

One team change

There is only one change to the starting side that lost in Toulouse last weekend; Ben Tapuai replaces the injured Rohan Janse van Rensburg, while Marnus Potgieter moves onto the bench.

It is not only the Sharks who are fighting for their place in the URC playoffs, but the Bulls and Lions, too. And both will be in action at Ellis Park on Saturday: the Bulls at 1pm against Zebre and the Lions at 4pm against Leinster.

Jake White’s Bulls are seventh on the points table and being hunted by the Sharks, Benetton and Cardiff Rugby as well. They, too, can simply not afford to slip-up now. A win against lowly Zebre is a must because next week’s fixture against the leaders, Leinster, will be a tough one.

The Lions, 11th, can possibly still make the playoffs, but they will also have to beat Leinster and Zebre.

Only the Stormers, second, are certain of a last-eight spot. They face Munster on Saturday (6.30pm).