Nucifora: ‘Sharks have more to lose than us’

Blues coach David Nucifora has turned the tables on the top-of-the-log Sharks, insisting the South Africans have more to lose than their New Zealand counterparts in Saturday’s Super 14 semi-final in Durban.

With the Sharks ending the round robin stage of the 2007 Super 14 in first place, the team from Durban have rightly been instilled as favourites ahead of the weekend, although the wily Nucifora would not want it any other way.

“I’d say the pressure’s on them more than us,” said Nucifora to this website. “They’re playing at home, they’re the favourites; they have expectations. Us, we’re under the radar… we’re away from our home town media and just able to get on with preparing for Saturday in some fantastic conditions here in Durban.”

The Blues, without disgraced lock Ali Williams, arrived in Durban on Sunday in relatively good nick, with Nucifora adding: “I can’t explain why, but we’re in better shape than when we arrived in Cape Town for our last trip [out here]. For some reason the guys have just got into the swing of things better, and quicker, this time around.”

Better shape or not, the Kiwis would do well to forget their disappointing trip to South Africa earlier this season when they suffered successive losses to the Stormers (20-33) and the Bulls (19-40), before eventually getting their 2007 campaign back on track with a win over the Force, in Perth, last weekend.

Of course, before they travelled to SA last month, the Blues’ downward spiral had already begun at home – albeit in Albany and not Auckland – when the Sharks recorded a stunning – but shock – 32-25 victory.

“It’s [losing] all part of the learning curve. It’s up to us to take something from that last match against the Sharks and prove that we actually learnt something from that defeat,” said Nucifora.

“[But] as far as we’re concerned the competition is just getting started. There are just four teams left now and any one of us can win the trophy; we’ve all got an even shot.”

The Blues, however, will need to show a dramatic improvement from their previous outing against the Sharks, the men from Durban having outplayed them in virtually every facet at a soggy North Harbour Stadium on April 14. Whilst the try-count on the night was level at three-all, the Sharks simply tackled their hosts into submission, with the accurate, yet booming boots of Francois Steyn and Percy Montgomery also playing a major role in the well-constructed victory.

“Look,” began Nucifora, “they’ve played well since then, too, but it’s up to us to show that we’ve improved from that match.”

And when pressed on the strengths of the Sharks team, the Blues coach continued: “They’re a well-balanced side; the power of their forwards is well-documented, but they also boast plenty of experience up front and you just have to respect their backs, too. They’ve got pace and plenty of playmakers, plus Dick Muir has done a great job putting it all together.”

Youngsters JP Pietersen (11 tries) and Francois Steyn (41 points) and veteran Percy Montgomery (83 points) are the obvious point-scoring threats to the Blues, coupled with the obvious power, grunt and experience of the Sharks forwards, but it certainly will not get any easier for the first-ever Super 12 champions should they surprise the Sharks at Absa Stadium.

“When you finish fourth on the standings you’re at the mercy of other teams,” said Nucifora, who guided the Brumbies to Super 12 glory in 2004. “We’re well prepared for any eventuality that presents itself – but we’re not looking further than this weekend at the moment.”

By Howard Kahn 365 Digital 

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