The Cell C Sharks will be venturing into somewhat unchartered territory when they face off against an Italian side for the first time in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship on Saturday.
With their week seven fixture against Zebre postponed to 19 March due to Covid, the Cell C Sharks take on Benetton in their first foray against Italian opposition this weekend looking to build on their last performance that heralded a hugely rewarding 29-22 victory over the Vodacom Bulls on 12 February.
Having played an extra game – 10 to the Cell C Sharks nine – Benetton are the best performers of the two Italian sides, in ninth position on the URC log with 23 points, two ahead of the Cell C Sharks in 10th spot.
Former Shark Rhyno Smith is their top points’ scorer with 32, while Michele Lamaro is their leading try-scorer with four dot-downs, one behind Makazole Mapimpi while Boeta Chamberlain has scored the most points for the side with 65.
Interestingly, both sides come into this match with after the same three results, a win, a draw and a loss and there isn’t much separating the sides at lineout time (Benetton 7th, Cell C Sharks 8th) and scrums (12th, 10th), although the Cell C Sharks have a better disciplinary record, currently lying 7th while Benetton are 12th.
Head coach Sean Everitt believes his team is in the right space and ready to tackle the immediate challenge and beyond.
“The win against the Bulls gave the team a lot of belief and going away, the team is in a better head space than after the Stormers game.
“It was a good win, a character-building one for everybody and the important thing for us is to prepare well for Benetton, freshen up and be clear about our plans so that we can get another five points.”
Benetton will be missing their internationals this week due to Six Nations commitments and their clash with Ireland means the loss of captain Michele Lamaro amongst a number of their players in the Italian national squad.
“There are no easy games in the URC,” Everitt points out. “Although the Six Nations is on at the moment, Benetton have a wealth of international players still with them who aren’t involved in Six Nations rugby at the moment.
“They aren’t losing too many players from the pack and we won’t be taking anything for granted. We need to focus on the job at hand which is to try get maximum points out of the next seven games which would leave us in a very good space.”