Preview: Semifinal - Sharks v Cheetahs
Preview: Semifinal - Sharks v CheetahsSHARE
Durban always throws up something unexpected for big matches, especially for major play-offs.
There was the famous (or infamous if you like) deluge of the 1995 World Cup semifinal between South Africa and France, then a few years back the very infamous attack of the bees that delayed a game for almost half-an-hour.
Last week Durban's notorious October weather again showed us just how quickly things can change, turning the encounter between the Sharks and Western Province into a real arm wrestle.
The forecast for Saturday, when the Sharks host the Free State Cheetahs at Kings Park in the second of two Currie Cup semifinals, is not too bad.
It is expected to be cool – a high of just 19°C – with occasional rain and drizzle in the morning, followed by a shower in spots in the afternoon.
However, it is the averages for October that should concern fans hoping for a fast-paced high-scoring game full of entertainment.
Despite last week's downpour Durban is nowhere near their October average of 100mm or 20 days of rain.
The Sharks' coaching staff are well aware that conditions will play an important role.
"Territory is going to be vitally important in this semifinal," Sharks backline coach Sean Everitt told this website this week, when asked about key factors in this game.
"You don't want to start playing rugby in our own half, in case you give away a penalty.
"Territory and the kicking game is going to be vitally important.
"The weather also doesn't look like it is going to be that great in Durban on Saturday and we are expecting rain."
Everitt suggested that discipline will be "vitally important".
"[If] you give away penalties that becomes points [against you]," the backline mentor said, adding: "Obviously you need a good set piece that functions on the day."
Everitt said rain is not suitable to the Sharks, as they also enjoy a ball-in-hand game.
"Obviously we have to adapt to the conditions and I feel we adapted quite well against Western Province last week.
"We won the territory battle, 63 percent to their 37 – it was a huge plus for us and will give us confidence going into this game if it does rain."
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské also felt that the more experienced players will be the ones having the biggest influence in the game.
Drotské is banking on his centre-pairing of Robert Ebersohn and Johann Sadie, as well as his all-Springbok front row of Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen to make a big impact.
"Johann and Robert have played together in the Super Rugby competition and they have played in every Currie Cup game so far this year," Drotské said of the midfielders.
"They are stalwarts in every respect and we will look to them to give us momentum on attack as well as defence.
"In the scrums we expect another tough battle, as our front row will pack down against a Sharks scrum that still features two Boks," he said of the loss to injury of veteran tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis.
"It is going to be a hard match, that is for sure."
However, if the conditions turns nasty, it will be the boot of winger Riaan Smit who could become the biggest factor for the visitors.
Smit ahead of Sevens Bok Ryno Benjamin was the only selection change this week.
"The reason for Riaan Smit's inclusion is that he is our first-choice goal-kicker," Cheetahs backline coach Hawies Fourie said.
"In a semifinal, you will take every opportunity for points which come your way and that is why we have decided to include him.
"Riaan has kicked 15 out of 15 attempts and will be our go-to man with regards to kicking against the Sharks."
The Sharks' most noteworthy change – apart from bringing back captain Keegan Daniel at No.8 – was the selection of World Cup-winning Bok Frans Steyn in midfield.
The selection of Steyn, who has not played since he underwent surgery for a leg injury in May, cause a big stir this week.
However, the Sharks have faith that the big centre will be up for the challenge.
"Frans is a world-class player and has done well in various competitions around the world," Daniel said.
"He brings experience and some X-factor, he’s a big guy and someone who will help us get over the advantage line.
"When you have someone of Frans’s ability, who is ready and raring to go, you have to make use of that opportunity."
Steyn last featured in competitive action in early May against the Highlanders in the Super Rugby competition, before undergoing surgery.
2013: Sharks won 50-26, Durban
2013: Sharks won 18-15, Bloemfontein
2012: Sharks won 37-30, Bloemfontein
2012: Sharks won 34-32, Durban
2011: Sharks won 20-13, Durban (semifinal)
2011: Free State Cheetahs won 53-32, Bloemfontein
2011: Sharks won 43-34, Durban
2010: Sharks won 30-16, Durban
2010: Sharks won 25-13, Bloemfontein
Prediction: If the conditions turn south, the game will be a bitter arm-wrestle to the end. However, the Free State Cheetahs' best hope is a dry day, so they can get their runners into the game. The Sharks' pack – with perhaps the exception of the scrums – should have the edge over the opposition. The Sharks should win a close contest – by less than 10 points.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Stephan Lewies, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Heimar Williams.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Lodewyk De Jager, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Teboho Mohoje, 19 Freddy Ngoza, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Date: Saturday, October 19
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: There will be occasional rain and drizzle in the morning, followed by a shower in spots in the late afternoon. It will be cool – a high of just 19°C.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Deon van Blommestein
By Jan de Koning