With all the absurdities surrounding the British & Irish Lions tour at the moment in light of the pandemic raging havoc with the schedule, the Cell C Sharks will get another chance to get things right this weekend. The Blue Bulls are unable to put a team together for their scheduled clash and thus the Sharks, already in a "bio-bubble" will fill the roster for second time, hoping to turn around their 54 - 7 loss from Wednesday.
Head coach Sean Everitt has made a number of changes to his side, with no less than 7 in the pack, whilst retaining captain Phepsi Buthelezi at the back of the scrum. Curwin Bosch drops out of the match day 23 all together after a horror performance from the Springbok hopeful and is replaced by Lionel Cronje, whilst his scrumhalf partner Jaden Hendrikse retains his shirt, whilst the experienced Cameron Wright comes in on the bench.
Some muscle has been added up front to probably the only area the Sharks showed promise in on Wednesday. Werner Kok, who was a real thorn in the B & I Lions side on Wednesday is shifted into the centers and will be tasked with keeping the sizeable Elliot Daly at bay. The former 7's star was one of very few who earned any praise after the game as he truly put his body on the line in an attempt to slow the tide.
The B & I Lions on the other hand, in my opinion, field an even stronger side. Dan Biggar who will surely start at 10 in the tests gets the jersey and if his stellar display against Japan is anything to go by, he will test the Sharks back 3 constantly. Duhan van der Merwe will start at wing again after he won man of the match on Wednesday and his opposite number Marnus Potgieter will have his work cut out stopping him.
Up front the Lions are starting Maro Itoje and the Sharks should be worried about the physicality he will bring to the game. Tadhg Furlong will also pose a huge threat, whilst Hamish Watson, Tadhg Beirne and Jack Conan will form a formidable loose trio, focusing on the breakdown where the Sharks truly struggled the most. Courtney Lawes has been one of the star performers of the tour thus far and will come of the bench later in the game most likely at lock with Sam Simmonds offering speed and power off the bench to the loose trio.
With all this in mind, the Sharks will have a tremendously difficult task ahead of them if they want to stop the try scoring machine the Lions are proving to be. The Sharks need to go back to basics and immediately dispense with the senseless kicking we saw on Wednesday. The Lions have shown how dangerous they are on the counter and it would be foolish to let them have that free reign again. Keeping the ball tight and being patient in the forwards should be their go to strategy as when they built phases on Wednesday, they did threaten to score.
Urgency is another crucial aspect the Sharks need to get right. There were simply too many loose balls popping out of the rucks on Wednesday and they were just left there for the Lions to pounce on. A slow, methodical and typically South African approach to the breakdown is essential here as the Lions thrive off quick ball. Body position in contact was another shocker, to see the 120kg JJ van Der Mescht running up right into contact was a travesty. When the players do this, they nullify themselves as they are too easy to tackle. This applies in equal measure to the rucks as the players showed poor body position and poor co-ordination when trying to protect their own ball.
Lastly the Sharks need to focus on defensive width. The B & I Lions have shown now that they play a high tempo game, and its as if their wingers have a bet going as to who will score the most, with Josh Adams in the lead currently. Too often the Lions found space out wide and often found the overlap with the sharks left to defend 2 on 1. Slow ball from the rucks is key in reducing this risk but better co-ordination from the backline is also required. It is well known that 13 is the defenses key in the backline and this is likely what prompted the shift of Werner Kok, in the hope that he will fill a similar roll to Lukhanyo Am in driving the Lions back in field with cut out tackles.
Sean Everitt will know the odds are stacked against him and said as much when announcing his side:
"Respect for the ball is really important. We do create opportunities but we need to show patience, we can't force the passes or put kicks through, we need to hold on to the ball for an extra phase because somewhere along the line, that wall can break"
The chance to play the British & Irish Lions normally only comes around once in a lifetime, unless you're Frans Steyn. So the Sharks should relish the chance to get their dignity back this weekend and should do everything in their power to inject life back into their game.