Manning Up

This weekend will take another huge effort from the Cell C Sharks when they travel to Cape Town to take on a DHL Stormers team that hasn’t enjoyed their best season this year.

As the log currently stands, the Stormers play their final match this weekend and should they lose, face what would be for them, the disappointing prospect of finishing bottom of the South African Conference.

One player who is looking forward to the battle with a Stormers side that has nothng to lose and who will throw everything at the Cell C Sharks is a new crowd favourite, Akker van der Merwe, playing in his first season at JONSSON KINGS PARK.

Although he left the field early, having enjoyed a barnstorming game against the Lions, he did suffer a shoulder injury which was a concern at the time. But, as he explained in the lead-up to this match, one he wouldn’t want to miss after his Vodacom Man of the Match performance against his old team last week, “When I woke up on Sunday the pain was gone.”

Now enjoying not only game time, but quality play with the Cell C Sharks that he didn’t get with the Lions before making the move down to Durban, he said with a laugh: “I don’t know who has been choosing the man of the match awards [he’s received a number], but I’m not complaining.”

Beating the Lions, a team that until last year he was representing was not quite a personal triumph of getting one over his former team, but the victory was clearly one to savour.

“Especially since the last time the Cell C Sharks beat the Lions was back in 2015, all in all it was a special game; I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Having accomplished the first of three must-win pool matches against the Lions, the stage is now set for Saturday’s showdown with the Stormers at Newlands. But, as van der Merwe explains, the Cell C Sharks’ ambitions go beyond just the pool matches.

“Every game is a must win for us,” he admitted. “When we returned from the break, we agreed that from then on, we need to win six out of six – the three pool matches of which we’ve won one, and the three knock-out games – so our motivation is the 4th of August.”

But right now, the focus is on the Stormers, a team that is going to be very dangerous this weekend.

“They have nothing to lose, so obviously they’ll throw the ball around, while we can expect the usual physicality from the Stormers’ pack. They have big forwards so the set-piece battle it going to be vital for us.”

As far as the scrums go, he felt that the little issues that hampered the Cell C Sharks in the early parts of our game against the Lions are a thing of the past.

“We might have got a bit ahead of ourselves, but we have to stick to our plan and execute it. We don’t have concerns about our scrum. Yes, the Stormers have a very good pack, but we’ll look to stick to what we know and do our best.”

On a personal level, he admits that his approach to playing rugby is not all about the victory, but what one gets out of the sport.

“There are a lot of things that go through my mind when I run onto the field to play a match, but at the end of the day it’s all about enjoying it. That’s why we play rugby: it’s our passion, so it’s important to enjoy every minute. You never know when you might be playing your last game.”