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Phepsi Buthelezi looking forward to tasty loose-forwards battle when Sharks host the Lions

Johannesburg — A tasty treat awaits the Shark Tank later this week when the Sharks host the Lions in a United Rugby Championship encounter that could offer a titanic battle between the loosies.

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It would not be unfair to state that on paper, the two units have a similar look and feel about them. Both have pace, experience and a mix of youthful exuberance, powerful ball-carriers, and can be defensively near impenetrable on the best of days.

The names that could possibly be jotted down on the Sharks’ matchday squad spreadsheet are impressive: Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, Vincent Tshituka, Phepsi Buthelezi and Sikhumbuzo Notse have all run out for the team in recent weeks.

They could possibly face a Lions loose trio consisting of union legend and Bok Jaco Kriel, Ruan Venter and Vincent’s younger brother, Emmanuel, with Sibusiso Sangweni coming off the bench to finish up proceedings.

Powerful. Fast. Irrepressible.

It is the type of match-up that gets the mouth salivating at its mere thought, and if no rotation or injuries hamper either team in the build-up, then the Sharks’ Neil Powell and the Lions’ Ivan van Rooyen could pick this specific reality for Friday.

Of course, the Sharks have just returned from a testing Champions Cup match in France where they narrowly beat Bordeaux, while their visitors must plan for a six-week block of matches away from home, including a four-week tour of Europe, in the coming two months.

Both coaches, therefore, could opt to rest some key players for the clash.

Nevertheless, No 8 Buthelezi admitted on Tuesday that the Sharks are fully informed regarding the Lions’ loose trio.

“It’s going to be a really exciting battle, isn’t it,” Buthelezi said.

“It is something that we are aware of. The Lions loose trio at the moment and in the past couple of months, they have all been playing really well.

“It certainly is a challenge we are looking forward to, but the focus is on us. It is about what, as a loose trio, want to achieve and how we want to announce ourselves in the game.

“It is certainly going to be a massive challenge, but we think we have a few tricks up our sleeve that we will be pulling out on Friday.”

The potential clash between brothers Vincent and Emmanuel makes the skirmish all the more interesting. On Tuesday, Emmanuel, somewhat hiding his own excitement, gave his insights into possibly playing against his older sibling.

“For the past two years we got used to playing with each other, but now the time has come that we play against each other,” Emmanuel said.

“We have spoken about it, and it is something that we are both excited for … Our family is quite excited as well – my mom, my dad.”

That family rivalry aside, winning the battle among the loosies, could go a long way for either team to claim the day. The hosts arguably have to be sharper than the Lions.

The Sharks are currently 10th on the URC standings with 19 points after seven games due to a poor start to the competition. They trail the Lions, who have played a game more but are in fifth on the log, by five points.

The blame for the Sharks’ earlier poor run was placed squarely at the feet of former coach Sean Everitt, who was “disposed” of after an embarrassing 35-0 loss at Kings Park in late November.

Since then, the Sharks have been steadily improving and are unbeaten in three matches, including two tough fixtures in the Champions Cup home and away. Buthelezi admitted that since that terrible defeat to Cardiff, and with the introduction of director of rugby Powell into the coaching hotseat, there has certainly been a change in mindset.

“Our process during the week, it is something that we have had a look at,” Buthelezi said.

“How we prepare going forward for games – mentally, physically and emotionally – is something that we have paid a lot of attention to. We feel it has given us the results and the type of performances we are striving for.

“Yes, we are playing a different competition on Friday, but we are going to carry through this momentum because it is the same squad.”

Powell will name his matchday 23 for the clash on Thursday.


IOL Sport

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