THE Sharks will go to war on Saturday with five Springbok front-row forwards in their Currie Cup squad of 22 for the semi-final against the Lions at King’s Park.
The Lions are looking to their scrum, built around the powerful, 22-year-old loosehead, Heinke van der Merwe, to pressure the Sharks pack and shackle their fleet-footed backline.
But Sharks captain and lock Johann Muller believes his forwards have the firepower to match the Lions.
“They have a really good scrum, no hiding from that. But so do we, with a full Bok front-row (Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis) and two more Boks (John Smit and Deon Carstens) on the bench.
“It will be a great contest and everyone has a point to prove.”
Bismarck du Plessis, battle-hardened and match-fit, is certain to start at hooker ahead of Springbok captain Smit, who is still easing his way back into top level rugby after an extended injury break.
Bismarck du Plessis, his brother Jannie and Mtawarira were in the Bok front-row which finished the last Test against the Wallabies at Ellis Park at the end of August.
Coach John Plumtree is not expected to make changes to his regular, settled line-up, though the in-form Keegan Daniel is challenging hard, but he will probably lose out to the more experienced Jacques Botes on the flank.
Plumtree said yesterday that he is “reasonably confident” that the tall Albert van den Berg will be passed fit after injuring his shoulder against Griquas.
Plumtree said the strength of the Sharks will lie in the bench where the replacements “can all add value”.
Certainly Waylon Murray, Carstens, Rory Kockott, Van den Berg and Daniel have all shown encouraging form and Smit’s composure and scrummaging power in the last quarter of a tight game could also prove invaluable.
There are 16 internationals in the Sharks squad of 22.
The Sharks team will be named later today.
Probable Sharks team:
Stefan Terblanche, Odwa Ndungane, Adrian Jacobs, Francois Steyn, JP Pietersen, Frederic Michalak, Ruan Pienaar, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Johann Muller (capt), Steven Sykes, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira.
Replacements: John Smit, Deon Carstens, Albert van den Berg (or Nikolai Blignaut), Keegan Daniel, Rory Kockott, Brad Barritt and Waylon Murray.
News 24 reports that Wimpie Vermeulen, who coaches the Lions’ backline, is confident that flyhalf Earl Rose, who gifted the Sharks two tries in their recent 34-20 defeat at Ellis Park, will have a major role to play on Saturday.
“I’m sure Earl knows what to do in a semi-final,” Vermeulen said.
“The large number of Springboks in the Sharks team does not worry our players — they see it as a challenge.”
The Lions — who beat the Sharks in the corresponding semi-final in Durban last season — went on to narrowly lose to the Cheetahs in last year’s final but they will be the underdogs on Saturday.
Forwards coach Leon Boshoff says that status suits them.
“It is to our benefit that no one thinks we have a chance. It was the same story last year.”
But he says they will have to be disciplined.
“We can’t make the same mistakes we made against them last month when they capitalised in the last 20 minutes,” he said.
Left wing Trompie Nontshina and lock Anton van Zyl, injured against WP on Saturday, have been cleared, but the Lions were yesterday waiting on a medical report on hooker Willie Wepener (ankle injury).
The match kicks off at 2.30 pm on Saturday.