Preview: Cell C Sharks vs Harlequins

Saturday heralds a new dawn on the rugby landscape as the Cell C Sharks get their Heineken Champions Cup debut off to a cracking start against Harlequins at Hollywoodbets Kings Park.

Cell C Sharks Director of Rugby Neil Powell has selected a powerful team to host the English side and his expectation from the returning Springboks is that their contribution is matched by their team-mates.

“We expect the Boks to almost slot back seamlessly into the team, but it’s going to take a team effort,” he said in the build-up to this historic day.

“We can’t just rely on certain individuals to make this weekend a success. The big focus has been on getting the Boks on the same page as everyone else in terms of where we want to go and our game plan.

“But we know they will bring massive effort and high standards to this team and I’m really excited to see them play this weekend. Siya Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth are back, we tried keepinhg the changes to a minimum to ensure we have a bit of cohesion and flow for this game.”

Powell admitted that in a different competition, there is a lot at stake this weekend, “but we’ve had a good week of prep and I’m happy with where we are, both detail and intensity-wise.”

Although it’s a new competition, the essence and basics of rugby remain and Powell explained that he wants the Cell C Sharks to be a team that plays the game well both ways, whether on attack or defending, and to work hard on both.

“One of the focus points for us was that we’ve perhaps not been patient on attack in the past and couldn’t hang onto the ball for a long period of time. So going into this week, it’s about having more patience and more respect for the ball, knowing that we’ll come up against very good attacking systems.

“Defensively, we have to be very structured, everyone needs to be on the exact same page with regard to roles and responsibilities, and with that, we need to be dominant and physical.”

A new competition with different opposition inevitably presents a new set of challenges and Harlequins will test the Cell C Sharks in a big way.

“Quins are a team that likes to attack and we need to counter that. They have more of a ball-in-hand approach and they like to play from everywhere, so in our analysis we’ve tried to work out a defensive system that keeps them out.”

With the team having settled now with the Springboks back and a decent amount of time to prepare, Powell admitted that the theme this week has been all about a focus on effort.

“We want to make sure we put in a good performance against Harlequins and we really want for all the guys to give us a great effort, not just on the weekend but in this week’s preparations as well.

“We also spoke about accuracy, we can be a lot more accurate in the implementation of what we want to achieve.

“Then it’s belief. We have a really good team individually and it’s a case of getting that belief that we can be successful in this competition.”