The Cell C Sharks host Connacht in the penultimate round of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship this afternoon at Hollywoodbets Kings Park, knowing that a win takes them a step closer to a home quarter-final.
The Cell C Sharks were knocked back into fifth place after the Vodacom Bulls’ victory over Glasgow on Friday night, but have the opportunity to leapfrog the Pretoria team when they entertain the 10th placed Irish side.
In a rare bit of good luck, head coach Sean Everitt has the satisfaction of being able to name the identical match 23 to the one that defeated the log leaders Leinster last week.
“We previously did rotate the team and give players opportunities, but the team has been winning lately and we don’t feel there is any need to change,” he explained.
“The beauty of it is that you build cohesion and there’s a great vibe in the team at the moment.”
As the final home game of the pool stages of the competition, Everitt admitted that his team would be throwing everything at Connacht in their quest to maintain their excellent run of form.
“You don’t want to get on a plane under pressure to qualify and the outcome of this match will go a long way to see how far we can move up the log. It’s a big game for us and a very important one.”
At this stage of the competition, with two matches remaining before the knock-outs and coming off a long string of positive results, the team seems to have found their best form just at the right time. They’ve been playing well each game and delivering 80 minute performances which is exactly what is required in a tough competition like this.
“The guys know the importance of winning every game after being under the pump right from the start of the competition, all the South African teams dropping points away from home, so to be able to finish in the top eight with an opportunity of playing in the European competition next year, that adds extra pressure.
“Initially we had to build up our performances to where they are now so there has been a lot of focus within the group, and having the senior players and Springboks here, guys used to pressure situations, has helped us.”
Casting his eye over the opposition, he explained that, “Connacht are a difficult side to play against, they’ve beaten all three of the other South African sides and they’ll be motivated to make it a clean sweep.
“They’re a gutsy team with good defence and they’re very good with holding on to the ball, with a strong attribute of attacking the breakdown. So we need to make sure we look after our own ball.”
Everitt admitted that this game is all about getting the blend of kicking and attacking right, while good defence is also going to be crucial.
“Our breakdown work has improved, but coming into this game, we know Connacht are a massive threat on the ground and that’s been a big focus of ours this week,” he said.
“We had some really good counter-attacking opportunities against Leinster last week, Fassi had a very good game from the back, and it’s about getting that blend right.”
Having had to play in wet conditions for much of the time, the Cell C Sharks coach admitted that the predicted warmer weather certainly excites him.
“Playing in dry conditions gives us more time with the ball and getting it out to the edges where our danger men are; the weather will certainly help us as far as that’s concerned.”