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Preview: Sharks v Cheetahs

21st October 2011 09:22

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Adriaan Strauss cheetahs sharks cc 2011

Strauss: Key to the Cheetahs' chances of pulling off an upset

Defending champions the Sharks host the Cheetahs in what should be an entertaining Currie Cup semi-final in Durban on Saturday.

The Cheetahs have been the Durban-based side's hoodoo team in recent semi-finals, beating them 30-14 in Bloemfontein in 2006 and 23-21 in Durban in 2009.

Although his side has been bolstered by the return of seven Springboks from the World Cup, Sharks coach John Plumtree knows his charges will have to work hard to see off the Cheetahs challenge.

"We will need to play really well to beat this Cheetahs side, it's not a given if we just turn up and the players understand that because of the history between the two teams," he said.

"(But) the pool stages are over and we know exactly what we need to do and we have an opportunity to contest the final again. We have had a proud history in this competition over the last four years and we want to be there to contest the final this year.

"We know we can if we play well enough. The players are very excited about the opportunity. We need to focus on what we need to do to get there," he added.

Although not part of the World Cup squad, the Cheetahs will rely heavily on their own Springboks, captain and hooker Adriaan Strauss and loose forward Ashley Johnson, to take the challenge to their hosts.

The Sharks will be confident of securing a win after they finished their league campaign in emphatic style with a 53-9 home win over the table-topping Lions last week.

In that clash, Springboks JP Pietersen, Willem Alberts and Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis started on the bench but they all made significant contributions when they came onto the field in the second half.

With these players now in the starting XV,Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske knows a difficult task awaits his side.

"Sometimes it's difficult to get a young player to believe he can win against these players, so our biggest challenge this week has been to get our players to realise that it has happened before and it can happen again," said Drotske.

"We will focus on defence, the breakdowns and playing from turned over possession and can't afford to play for anything less than 80 minutes. Also, we have to ensure we close down their space and make our one on one tackles."

Players to watch:

For Sharks: Expect Bismarck du Plessis to be like a crazed animal when he takes to the field on Saturday. Rated by many experts as the world's best hooker, Du Plessis was kicking his heels on the replacements bench as cover for Springbok captain John Smit during most of the World Cup. He certainly has a point to prove.

For Cheetahs: While Du Plessis was unfortunate to sit on the Springboks bench at the World Cup, Cheetahs loose forward Ashley Johnson was equally unlucky not to make the 30-man squad for the global showpiece. Johnson has been in fine form throughout the season and has impressed as a strong ball carrier and lethal defender.

Head-to-head: Sharks fly-half Frederic Michalak's duel with Cheetahs pivot Johan Goosen could determine the result of this match. It will be a battle between the young and the old as 29-year-old Michalak goes up against nineteen-year-old Goosen, who has impressed with composed performances since making his debut for the Cheetahs earlier in the competition. Both are excellent goalkickers but Michalak holds the edge as a playmaker. However, Goosen has already played against Michalak in a league match in Bloemfontein this season and on that occassion he got the better of the French international.

Recent results (2011):

September 17: Cheetahs won 53-32 in Bloemfontein
July 30: Sharks won 43-34 in Durban

Prediction: Playing in front of a partisan home crowd and with their Springboks back in their starting line-up, the Sharks will be too strong for the Cheetahs. Sharks by seven!

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Marius Joubert, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Conrad Hoffmann, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Jean Deysel/Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Marcell Coetzee, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Adi Jacobs, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Cameron Jacobs, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Ashley Johnson, 6 Pieter Labuschagne, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Philip van der Walt, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Johan Wessels, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Nico Scheepers.

Date: Saturday, October 22
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant referees: Lesego Legoete, Marc van Zyl
television match official: JC Fortuin

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