SHARKS backline coach Grant Bashford believes his team will have to raise the intensity of their game to beat the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday in the Super Rugby semifinal, saying they expected a vastly different challenge to last week.
The Sharks booked their semifinal spot against the Stormers last Saturday after thumping the Reds 30-17 in Brisbane, while the Crusaders take on the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday after dealing the killer blow to the Bulls' campaign.
While the Stormers will enter the clash as favourites as they have the luxury of home-ground advantage and since they will be fresh physically - unlike the Sharks who had to make the journey to Australia last week and back - the familiarity between the sides should set the scene for an epic encounter.
But with the Sharks coming off a stunning win after sneaking into the knockout stages through the back door, Bashford was optimistic about his team's hopes of toppling the Stormers to advance to their fourth Super Rugby final since 1996. "Every time we play the intensity has to rise, and it becomes even more pivotal in local derbies because those matches are particularly demanding.
"Both round-robin games against the Stormers were close encounters. In fact, it was a late penalty by Peter Grant that earned them a win at Newlands, so we are expecting a similarly challenging clash this week. The Stormers are best defensive team in the competition, so they will be a tough nut to crack, but we have done it before," Bashford said.
"For us, it will be important to enter the clash with the right mind-set and to deliver a similarly effective performance to that last weekend."
Bashford was not concerned that trip to Brisbane and back in eight days would drain the players physically, and said: "It has always been easier for us to travel home than to go overseas, but that said, we have to manage the players well this week. They had a recovery day (yesterday) which included having massages and resting, and we will start with the hard work today. Obviously our training sessions won't be long, but we have to get through the work."
While the Reds clash undoubtedly served as good preparation for the semifinal from a mental perspective and in terms of testing their quality of rugby, Bashford said this clash would be vastly different.
"Play-off rugby is all about winning and doing everything right on the day," he said. "But this clash will provide a different test to last week. The Stormers' game centres around their solid defence and tactical kicking, while the Reds focus more on their attack. So we might draw confidence from some of our strengths last week and the momentum gained from the clash, but this test will be tougher."
As expected Bashford predicted that the breakdowns would be one of the decisive battles this weekend.
While Bashford conceded the momentum they had gained from playing last weekend was invaluable, he said the extra time for a few key Stormers players, such as looseforwards Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen, to recover from knee injuries probably made the Stormers' break last week more beneficial in terms of their preparation.