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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Sharks and Lions can’t afford to lose if they want to make URC playoffs

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Cape Town – The Sharks and the Lions will have to set their focus on the United Rugby Championship (URC) to fight for play-off spots, or run the risk of totally missing out in the competition this season.

Currently, the Durban side occupy eighth spot on 33 points, while the Lions are nine points adrift of them with the two sides still set to tussle it out for a possible full house of points when they meet each other in Johannesburg in just over a week.

Both teams are still in the hunt for a place in the URC’s play-offs, albeit the Lions with a slimmer chance, but it’s probably time for their coaches to make the call of putting any Heineken or Challenge Cup ambitions on the back burner.

Any more losses for either team in the URC will hurt their chances of making the Top 8 as the crunch part of the season begins.

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Both teams have a game in hand after their clashes with Glasgow Warriors and Ulster were postponed when the two Europe sides could not field teams after contracting a stomach illness on their last trip to South Africa.

Ivan van Rooyen’s Lions are basically in a do-or-die situation.

One more loss could potentially spell the end of their aspirations to reach the play-offs, leaving them to fail for a second season in a row in reaching the tournament’s quarterfinals – even after they showed promise at the start of their second campaign.

After a decent break over the last few weeks, long enough in rugby terms for them to recharge batteries and freshen up some over-travelled legs, they’ll begin the last bit of the season with three home matches – a perfect opportunity in front of their fans.

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The first big test for the Johannesburg-based side heading into the business end, starts against the depleted Sharks.

The Lions will most probably target this match as the one to kickstart their Everest quest to reach the last eight. Their last outing versus the Durban side ended in a rout at the Shark Tank but the home side had their Boks at their disposal.

This time around, though, they will have to make do without national players like Siya Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi, who are all resting.

And the Sharks have to travel to Johannesburg, which should even out the playing field.

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The Sharks, on the other hand, know that they’ll have to find a quick-fire response after being thoroughly beaten by the Stormers this past weekend.

Last season 57 log points got the team into fifth place overall but with clashes against the Lions, Ulster, Stormers and Munster still waiting, it’s difficult seeing them grabbing five points in all of these games to reach that tally again.

On top of that, they will at least face the Lions, Ulster and Stormers without their top Boks, which will make the task even more difficult.

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Winning, no matter what, should be the top priority for the Durban side. Neil Powell, the Sharks Director of Rugby and interim head coach, will have to find a way to mentally prepare his team for the next few weeks.

They’ve been blowing hot and cold with a good victory one weekend, just to lose focus the next. Playing without the leadership that Kolisi, Am and Eben Etzebeth bring, seems to be the downfall of the team.

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If they do for for some reason fall to the Lions, their path to the play-offs will be even trickier as they have to face three of the current top six URC teams at the back end of the season, and securing wins in these games will be even more difficult.

For the Bulls, voctories in two of their last five matches should be enough to see them secure a top eight spot.

But they will all too well know the value of a finish in the top four after they achieved that feat last season and managed to secure a home play-off.


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