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Special EditionSuper RugbyLike every fine season of Super Rugby, all is not revealed until the final weekend of the regular season, and the 2014 campaign, and 19th tournament overall of the Southern Hemisphere’s premier provincial competition, will be no different.

However congratulations must be offered to the Waratahs, who offered one piece of clarity over the weekend with their 44-16 win over the Highlanders.

With that, the Waratahs has for the first time qualified as the top-ranked team after the regular season, and become the ninth franchise in history to finish as ‘minor premiers’.

For coach Michael Cheika and his troops, this will be a significant fact even though he was quick to remind all who would listen that the Super Rugby Finals Series would be another step up for a team that looks the goods.

However, as Cheika correctly pointed out, there will be teams with more experience at this stage of the season and this is a crucial factor for potential champions.

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Francois Steyn - Cell C Sharks

Francois Steyn back at No 10 for the Cell C Sharks

Frans Steyn has moved into the flyhalf position with Paul Jordaan recovering from injury to take his No 12 jersey in a strong Sharks team.

Director of Rugby Jake White has named a strong side for this derby game, opting to start with a formidable side that has been the hallmark of this team throughout the competition.

Of the injured trio of Paul Jordaan, Pat Lambie and Beast Mtawarira all receiving scans this week to confirm or deny a return to rugby, it was only Jordaan who was passed fit.

He has been included alongside JP Pietersen in the midfield. Steyn takes over from Tim Swiel at flyhalf and Fred Zeilinga has been named as back-up off the bench.

Ryan Kankowski is back at No 8 after withdrawing from last week’s game with a groin strain, and White has bolstered the starting line-up with three Boks who played off the bench last week, Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis and brother and captain Bismarck du Plessis.

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imageSaturday afternoon will see the final league phase of Super Rugby 2014 come to an end when the Cell C Sharks travel to Newlands in Cape Town to face the DHL Stormers.

At the time of writing the Sharks have not yet released their team, with Jake White still waiting to hear on the fitness of Patrick Lambie and Paul Jordaan. Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira has earlier in the week tweeted that a scan had ruled out the need for an operation, but that he will still be away from the field for another 2-3 weeks due to a neck injury.

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Jannie du Plessis

Jannie du Plessis

Jannie du Plessis says the Sharks need to play their own game if they are to rediscover their form.

Last weekend the Sharks suffered defeat in Bloemfontein despite a late fight back and they now find themselves on the brink of missing out on a home semi-final. The Springbok front-ranker was open when speaking about the morale in the camp following the loss.

“The feeling is not good,” he said. “We played against the Stormers the week before the international break and we really wanted to capitalise on the hard work we’d done on tour. But we made a few irrational choices on the field, and it came back to bite us. Then we were really keen to turn that around against the Cheetahs, and if you look at the game we really showed some intent, we carried the ball a lot more than they did, and we tried to play with a bit more ingenuity and ball-in-hand. They were just too good on the day, they capitalised on our mistakes and I think we couldn’t build pressure.”

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Tendai 'Beast'Mtawarira

Tendai ‘Beast’Mtawarira

Patrick Lambie

Patrick Lambie

Paul Jordaan

Paul Jordaan

Cell C Sharks director of rugby Jake White will know later on Tuesday whether he will have the services of the injured trio of Tendai Mtawarira, Patrick Lambie and Paul Jordaan for Saturday’s all important final Vodacom Super Rugby league match against the DHL Stormers at Newlands.

All three players are heading back from injury and are said to now be recovered and rehabilitated, White just has to find out whether they are ready yet to take the field in a big match like the clash with the Stormers is shaping up to be. The status of flyhalf Lambie in particular will be eagerly awaited by not only White but also fans of the Durban franchise, for pivot has been problematic for the Sharks since the Springbok was injured playing against the Bulls in Pretoria in March.

As it is, Lambie has made an excellent recovery, as the initial prognosis was that his torn bicep would keep him out of the rest of the Super Rugby season. However, regardless of whether he is ready for the Newlands clash, it appears he may be ready to play a part in the knock-out games that follow.

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Jake White

Does Jake White have a valid point in blaming player fatigue on the last couple of results that went against the SA Conference leaders, the Cell C Sharks?

While it is true that the Sharks lost a few players to the national cause, it wasn’t as if it was the bulk of their side. Frans Steyn played one match, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and Willem Alberts were all either rested or rotated during the 4 Test matches in June. JP Pietersen had the biggest work load for the Bok team if measured in minutes played.

In contrast, the Waratahs players who were involved in the Test series against the French, for the Wallabies, seemed to have lifted their game to an ever higher level.

The same can be said of the All Black players who were involved in a tough 3 Test series against a strong England side.

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Jean Deysel

Jean Deysel

The Cell C Sharks will field a team resting Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis and Willem Alberts (all on the bench)… and also still without Patrick Lambie, but with Jean Deysel captaining the side and Frans Steyn back in his favoured position of Inside Centre.

This of course means that Tim Swiel starts at Flyhalf, Dale Chadwick at loosehead prop, Kyle Cooper as starting hooker and Lourens Adriaanse as starting tighthead prop.

S’Bura Sithole is back at Outside centre and JP Pietersen moves back to Right wing, with SP Marais protecting the last vestage.

3 Other returning Springboks get starting positions, namely Marcell Coetzee, Stephan Lewies and Lwazi Mvovo.

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Cell C SharksDo the business in Bloemfontein on Saturday night … then warm up the Sunday morning coffee smartly and become temporary Highlanders enthusiasts for 80 minutes.

Those ought to be key items on the Sharks’ to-do list this weekend as Super Rugby 2014 enters its penultimate round of ordinary-season play.

Director of rugby Jake White will be aware of the potential hazard of putting the cart before the horse, and drum into his charges that victory against the Cheetahs in a domestic derby is very much the main target.

But if they manage that, their attention will undoubtedly turn pretty smartly to a Sunday morning cracker (in SA time-zone terms, at 08:05) between the log-leading Waratahs and New Zealand-based playoffs challengers the Highlanders in Sydney.

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Cell C SharksBullsStormersLionsCheetahsThe South African Conference resumes this weekend in Round 18, after watching the Australian and New Zealand franchises in action which ensured that there is likely to be only one team from the Republic in the finals.

The Sharks, long guaranteed the South African Conference, will finish in the top three while two more victories will ensure that Jake White’s team finish in the top two position and lock up a home Semi Final.

The Bulls still have an outside chance of reaching the Finals Series, but their hopes were dealt a blow with a 32-21 loss to the Lions before the June break.

The Stormers have become one of the premier spoilers in Super Rugby so far, while the Lions and Cheetahs have likely already begun planning for the Currie Cup and 2015 season.

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Patrick Lambie

Patrick Lambie

Cell C SharksThe Cell C Sharks will return to Vodacom Super Rugby action this coming weekend one position lower on the log than they were when they went into the June break, but there is plenty of reason for them to be optimistic about their chances of going all the way to the title.

While the Sharks were out on their feet when the June international window arrived, as evidenced by their lame performance in the narrow home loss to the DHL Stormers, the break may have come at just the right time for them. During the off period they have welcomed Patrick Lambie and Anton Bresler back to training, while Jean Deysel is now over his suspension that was incurred for the stomping incident that saw him being sent off against the Crusaders in Christchurch.

Willem Alberts, one of the players who was looking tired before the break, had the week off from international duty last weekend because of the concussion that forced him off the field in the second test against Wales. He should be relatively refreshed when he does return, be it this week against the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein or next week against the Stormers in Cape Town.

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Carlos Spencer

Carlos Spencer

Southern Kings coach Carlos Spencer has rung the changes for the Super Rugby friendly against a Sharks XV in Port Elizabeth on Friday as he continues to assess his options ahead of the Currie Cup competition.

The Kings had a convincing 66-28 win over a young Bulls side in their last encounter and Spencer made nine changes to the starting line-up for the clash.

Reflecting on the team, Spencer said the Kings squad was well-covered in all positions, but some players still had to cement their positions.

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Jake White

Jake White

Cell C SharksJake White has hinted at a bold strategy to rest his returning Springboks with the Sharks having sewn up the South African conference and guaranteed some play-off rugby already.

The Sharks have an unassailable hold on the South African Conference and cannot finish the tournament any lower than third.

However, the plan is to finish in the top two and earn a direct route to a home semifinal without having to play a qualifying knock-out match.

White has indicated that if they are to really be competitive when it matters, it may require some tactical selection policies.

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Cell C SharksThe Sharks could potentially slip to third on the overall Super Rugby log following the completion of this weekend’s Round 17 action.

The Super Rugby competition resumes for New Zealand and Australian teams this week following the June international Test window.

No South African teams are taking part this weekend as the Springboks are scheduled to play one extra Test against Scotland, which falls outside the International Rugby Board’s Test window.

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Patrick Lambie

Patrick Lambie

Francois Steyn

Francois Steyn

The Cell C Sharks players not in the Springbok camp all returned to Kings Park this week as they start preparing for the final stages of the Super Rugby tournament, Sharks website editor Michael Marnewick reports.

In two weeks’ time, they will resume duty against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, followed by their final pool match, against the Stormers in Cape Town. The knockout stages follow with the Sharks already guaranteed a place in the top three, having already secured the South African Conference.

The players have had a mixed programme over the June break, alternating rest with gym work and field training to balance the needs to break from the game, without losing strength and fitness.

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Brian van Zyl

Brian van Zyl

The Sharks face allegations of maladministration from a report set to be presented to a senior employee on Monday.

The report was conducted by the Durban franchise’s auditing company, KPMG, and has been labelled as “potentially explosive”.

The allegations are believed to revolve around unauthorised benefits being handed to at least one senior staff member, but could spill over into other areas of the company.

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Francois Steyn

Francois Steyn

The good news is that the chronic knee injury that Frans Steyn is currently playing with won’t get worse and stop him from playing, but the bad news is that it is going to have to be managed for the rest of his playing career.

Steyn was the subject of quite a lot of consternation when Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said he was concerned about his condition during last week’s national training camp in Durban. However, the Bok management denied suggestions in some media forums that they were unhappy with the Sharks for playing Steyn through the injury, and it now appears the Boks might manage Steyn in the same way the Sharks have – by limiting the load placed on his affected knee in training.

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Jake White

Jake White

Heyneke Meyer

Heyneke Meyer

On Rugby-Talk recently, debate in the comments sections between Sharks supporters and other South African supporters often turned and revolved around Jake White’s management or mismanagement of his core players and around the players who will have to do duty for the national side, the Springboks.

The argument often used by Sharks supporters were that the June Internationals are less important, against weakened sides and that Jake White needed to do exactly like he did, play his players week after week and arguably into the ground.

Players like Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Willem Albers and more pertinetly Francois Steyn have looked increasingly jaded and this past weekend’s Sharks loss against the Stormers was a stark reminder of the situation.

One of the regular journalists I share the Press Box at Loftus Versfeld with, Brenden Nel, of SuperSport, penned an interesting article on this same matter. I think he nails this one on the head, here is what he says:

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Jake White

Jake White

Cell C Sharks coach Jake White agreed that the last gasp defeat to the DHL Stormers in the final Vodacom Super Rugby match before the June break was a massive blow to his team, but he refused at the post-match press conference to let the disappointment cloud his perspective.

“Look, if you had asked me at the start of the competition if I would buy a situation where we would be going into the June break at the top of the log by two points with two matches for us to play, I would happily have brought that,” said White.

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Marcell Coetzee

Marcell Coetzee

Jake white has selected exactly the same team as last week that defeated the Blues in Auckland, thus taking no chances.

There was speculation of injuries and half-injuries and it was suggested that the injured players are Bismark du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Francois Steyn and S’Bura Sithole, yet they are all fit and ready for Saturday’s showdown with the ever improving Stormers at Growthpoint Kings P{ark  Stadium in Durban.

The only change made, is that of  Marcell Coetzee who returns from injury in place of Jacques Botes who drops out of the squad.

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Special EditionSuper RugbyThe Cell C Sharks returned from their Australasian tour at the top of the Vodacom Super Rugby Log while the Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers continued their good home form this weekend.

The Durbanites beat the Blues for the 10th consecutive time, by 29-23, in Albany on Friday morning. They won 3 from 4 on tour Down Under, which is equal to their best tour ever in 2009, and bagged 13 Log points in Australasia, firming their grip of the top spot on the standings after 4 tough games abroad.

Later on Friday, the Vodacom Bulls were at their brutal best as they probably recorded their best win of the season when they dismantled the 2013 runners up, the Brumbies, by 44-23 at Loftus Versfeld. The score probably flattered the visitors as the side from Pretoria remained unbeaten at home this season.

On Saturday morning in Perth, the Lions fought very hard to win their final tour match, but ultimately came up short as they were beaten by 29-19 by the Force.

Round 15 came to an exciting end in Cape Town on Saturday evening when the DHL Stormers beat the Toyota Cheetahs by 33-0 in a rather one-sided match.

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Cell C SharksTrouble is brewing for the Cell C Sharks rugby team after a forensic investigation into their finances was ordered following concerns raised by the brand’s auditing company KPMG.

According to reports, the team’s top brass is keeping mum on the issue but have confirmed that such an investigation is being conducted.

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Super RugbyChiefsThe Chiefs’ two-year reign as Super Rugby champions is under threat after their 45-8 loss to the Hurricanes during the Round 15 clash, in which tournament standings underwent seismic transformation.

South Africa’s Sharks provided an element of stability by beating the Auckland-based Blues 29-23 to remain atop the championships ladder, five points clear of the New South Wales Waratahs.

The Chiefs and ACT Brumbies, who were beaten 44-23 by the Pretoria-based Bulls, not only gave up their places atop the New Zealand and Australian conferences but entirely dropped out of the top six.

It is a measure of the closeness of this season’s playoffs race that a single round can so thoroughly change the leading standings and a single defeat can impinge so heavily on any team’s title hopes.

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