Rugby news from KwaZulu-Natal:
Strong Sharks Team:
Cell C Sharks head coach Robert du Preez has selected his strongest available squad to take on the Vodacom Bulls in Saturday’s warm-up match at Ashton College in Ballito, in preparation for the imminent Vodacom Super Rugby competition.
There were no injury concerns aside from a few minor niggles out of the Super Hero Sunday clash with the Emirates Lions and du Preez admitted that, “We’re all good to go for Saturday.”
Explaining his selection, the coach pointed out that, “The plan is to potentially start the same team against the Bulls that we would pick to play in our opening Vodacom Super Rugby game. This match is very much a dress rehearsal for the Sunwolves game next Saturday.
“We have two full teams and when the game is finished on Saturday, everyone involved in the pre-season would have played, rewarding each one of them for the hard work they’ve put into this pre-season.”
The coaches have the good fortune of having an almost full squad of players at their disposal, with just a handful of players unavailable due to injury, but who are making steady progress and will return to action not too long from now.
Beast Mtawarira, Akker van der Merwe and Coenie Oosthuizen will start in the front row with Hyron Andrews and Ruan Botha partnering at lock. Jacques Vermeulen, Tyler Paul and Dan du Preez complete the back-row trio.
Captain Louis Schreuder and Curwin Bosch start as the half-back pairing with Marius Louw and Lukhanyo Am partnering in the centrefield. A young and exciting back three complete the team, du Preez going with with Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi and Aphelele Fassi.
There is plenty of exciting young as well as experienced talent amongst the reserves to suggest that this is a very strong side. Kickoff for this final warm-up match is 14h00
Cell C Sharks
- Beast Mtawarira
- Akker van der Merwe
- Coenie Oosthuizen
- Hyron Andrews
- Ruan Botha
- Jacques Vermeulen
- Tyler Paul
- Daniel du Preez
- Louis Schreuder
- Curwin Bosch
- Makazole Mapimpi
- Marius Louw
- Lukhanyo Am
- Sbu Nkosi
- Aphelele Fassi
- Juan Schoeman
- Fezo Mbatha
- Khutha Mchunu
- Ruben van Heerden
- Gideon Koegelenberg
- Wian Vosloo
- Luke Stringer
- Phepsi Buthelezi
- Cameron Wright
- Robert du Preez
- Lwazi Mvovo
- Andre Esterhuizen
- Jeremy Ward
- Leolin Zas
- Courtney Winnaar
- Kerron van Vuuren
- Grant Williams
- Rhyno Smith
Playing his Part:
Cell C Sharks centre Lukhanyo Am spent a fair portion of the 2018 season off the field, sidelined by injury, but he’s back to full fitness and against the Emirates Lions in the Super Hero Sunday hit-out, showed that he’s back to his best form.
“It was nice to get stuck in again and I was happy with the way things went for me against the Lions, I’d missed about four months of game time, but my confidence was high building up to the game,” he explained.
“It went really well after all the hard work that we’ve put in during the pre-season.”
While the Cell C Sharks might have lost the game, as Am points out, the result was not all that mattered. It was an opportunity to give players a run, mix things up as far as personnel go, as well as try a few things outside of training sessions.
“We do try to implement what we’ve been training for in these pre-season games but we do take a few more risks than we ordinarily would because the consequences aren’t the same as for a Vodacom Super Rugby game.”
Taking risks on attack can pay off, and David Williams, the attack coach will be looking to blend risk with reward, with a need to balance what the team can do with what each opposition team brings.
“We’ve worked on a few things,” Am explains. “During the season we will face different teams which bring different challenges to our attack and defensive systems. David has pushed us to learn fast about adjusting week to week. He’s worked with our shape and the style we want to play during the tournament.”
Does that mean scoring more tries?
“Most definitely! Without tries, a team won’t win too many games I guess, so it’s something we work hard on as well.”
Two tough pre-season games against top notch opposition – the Lions this past Sunday and the Vodacom Bulls this Saturday afternoon – is exactly the kind of preparation the team needs, says Am.
“It’s really good to have quality opposition in these warm-up games, the standard of play in Super Rugby is very high and these games will provide a good measure of where we’re at and what we need to do going into the competition.”
Winning the Currie last year unearthed a number of young guns all intent on playing at a higher level which places pressure on last years incumbents to perform, or face being usurped by the ambitious youngsters.
“We have a big squad, a very talented one, and competition-wise we feed off each other. It’s a healthy way to remain motivated.”
The Cell C Sharks will host the Bulls at Ashton College in Ballito on Saturday at 2pm. A limited number of tickets are still available at The Shark Cage and Ashton reception.
Lions On Top:
The Cell C Sharks got our 2019 Vodacom Super Rugby preparations off to an important start with a tough hit-out against the Lions in the Super Hero Sunday double-header at Cape Town Stadium.
The Lions prevailed 19-14, but it could so easily have been a different result in a game of two halves, the Lions enjoying more possession in the first half, but completely under the cosh in a pulsating second half when the game really came to life with the Cell C Sharks young guns delivering performances to be proud of.
With both sides sporting impressive and very strong line-ups – certainly not too experimental at all – it was always going to be a keenly-contested clash between two proud teams who have contested the final of the tournament the most in recent years.
The opening period was a settling down for both sides looking to find their playing rhythm, both enjoying early opportunities but neither able to finish off. There were exciting passages of play and very few errors considering how early this is in the season.
Despite every good intention from the players, by the end of the first quarter when referee Jaco Peyper called time for a water break, no-one had been able to break the deadlock with the scoreboard yet to register a point. Yes, there had been mistakes but that did not detract from the high quality of play and certainly resolute defence from both sides.
Five minutes into the second stanza, Makazole Mapimpi latched on to a loose pass under pressure, his intercept in the midfield seeing him sprinting to the tryline for the first score of the game, with Curwin Bosch adding the two.
With the Lions enjoying a surfeit of possession, indeed a full two-thirds, it was inevitable that the pressure would eventually take its toll. The Sharks, despite defending heroically for a 10 minute period following their try, eventually couldn’t hold back the indomitable Malcolm Marx who barged his way over in the 35th minute.
Jantjies converted and there wasn’t a lot more play remaining in the half, with the honours shared seven apiece at the break. Given the lion’s share of possession and territory enjoyed by the team from Joburg, they probably would have come off the more disappointed side for not doing more with it, while the Cell C Sharks would have been aware that they needed to secure more ball possession.
Head coach Robert du Preez made a number of changes for the second half but despite the interruption, it proved to be a great catalyst to some exciting, attacking rugby from the Cell C Sharks who nearly closed out a handful of very positive efforts. Clearly the young guns wanted to prove a point.
Unfortunately a moment of indiscipline gave the Lions an opportunity they wouldn’t have had and attacking off a lineout managed to score their second try, this one in the corner. Jantjies’ touchline effort drifted across the posts, but the Lions now held a 12-7 lead after 50 minutes.
Akker van der Merwe then came on as a sub and immediately made his presence felt. His first touch was a successful lineout throw, his second a powerful maul over the tryline for an amazing score-equalling effort. Bosch achieved what Jantjies couldn’t, converting from out wide to give the Cell C Sharks a slender lead.
With 15 minutes of the game remaining, the Lions were gifted a try when a good attacking effort went awry and the loose ball was snatched up my the Lions speedster who raced down the touchline to score his team’s third try. Jantjies converted for a five point lead.
Despite the Cell C Sharks throwing everything into the final moments and completely dominating the closing part of the game, we just couldn’t turn the overwhelming pressure into points and the Lions managed, against the odds, to hold out for a win.
While no loss can be accepted as “ok” in the context of this warm-up match, the performance was more important than the result and there was plenty of the coaching staff to applaud, not least of all the effort from his young guns who really set the game alight in an exciting second half that should have yielded greater rewards.