The Cell C Sharks XV take on the Free State XV at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein on Friday evening in a successive SuperSport Rugby Challenge away match, looking to make it three from three.
Consecutive victories, against the Griffons and Leopards, have elevated the Cell C Sharks XV into third spot on the Central Log, but Friday evening’s challenge against the log-leaders won’t be easy, particularly away from home.
Free State have won all three of their matches in the competition, although the Cell C Sharks XV aren’t far behind with a two-from-three record, and the latter will take comfort from a pleasing 57-28 victory over the Leopards in Rustenburg last Sunday.
There were some enterprising passages of play and good individual performances, although Head Coach Ricardo Loubscher will have drummed into his players the need for greater accuracy in execution for what is expected to be a much tougher assignment this week.
Five tries in the opening 20-odd minutes set the tone for a very big score, but to their credit, the Leopards proved to be stronger opposition as the game wore on.
Ricardo Loubscher has made just two changes to the starting XV, Wian Vosloo returning from his commitments in Vodacom Super Rugby with the Cell C Sharks, replacing Cornelius Otto at flank, while Danrich Visagie takes over from an injured Garth April at flyhalf.
The match kicks off at 6pm.
Chiliboy Ralepelle has enjoyed a re-invigorated season with the Cell C Sharks, but it didn’t come about by chance. Rather, some serious introspection took place on how and where he felt he could improve.
“As an athlete, you strive to be the best and for me, I laid down the foundation, went back and relooked at myself in terms of my performances, looked at stats from last year to see what I’m capable of and what I need to do,” he explains. “One thing I did was to work extremely hard with the conditioning coaches, working hard on the side.”
The other area he paid lots of attention to was the mental side of things.
“Previously I hadn’t, but things like the correct mindset and how you get yourself up for every game, for me that was an important element and something that has changed since last year.
“I’m just looking to do my best in every game, making sure I’m sharp for every facet of the game.”
He achieved a personal milestone of 100 Vodacom Super Rugby caps this weekend, interestingly against his former side – the Vodacom Bulls – where he amassed 69 caps before spending two years in France with Toulouse.
“For me, it’s a massive blessing to be part of the Cell C Sharks, this has really been a family to me,” he admits.
“This is a group that I can call my family, and to run out for the Cell C Sharks for my 100th game was a very special moment. It was very emotional and when I referred back to my debut in 2006, it feels like yesterday. But if you’d asked me back then if I saw myself playing 100 Super Rugby games, I’d probably have said no.
“It is a dream come true and something I’ve worked hard to achieve. I love this game, played in a wonderful spirit, with a great bunch of brothers.”
Amongst his ‘brothers’ at the Cell C Sharks are the other hookers, Franco Marais and Akker van der Merwe. Speaking about the competition, he points out that this is a good thing.
“It’s been healthy competition, to the extent that we help each other, on and off the field, we guide each other and I try to help with the knowledge that I have, helping them to get better. Making a better ‘opponent’ also makes me a better player because I know that this competition keeps you on your toes and you have to remain sharp. It’s also healthy for the team and South Africa because of the depth and talent we have in the hooking position.”
With Franco Marais moving to Europe after the conclusion of the Vodacom Super Rugby competition, it appears that Ralepelle and Akker van der Merwe will be vying for the starting position at hooker for the Cell C Sharks, something he believes bodes well for the team and country.
“Akker has huge potential for South Africa, he’s a great rugby player who has been showing all year what he’s capable of. I think it’s just a matter of time before he gets an opportunity and I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.”
Casting his eye over this Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby opponents, the Chiefs are missing a number of players for this match, through injury and All Black commitments. But, despite losing some of their stars, Ralepelle does not believe that this will weaken the side.
“That doesn’t really change things at all. The only thing that will change is that if there are 10 changes, then there will be 10 HUNGRIER players who haven’t had the opportunity to play at this level.
“That will make the game even tougher and we’ll have to be even more clinical in our execution, as well as show good discipline to not give them unnecessary possession. Discipline is a key factor for us.”
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