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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Chiliboy Ralepelle © Gallo Images

Chiefs changes will make them hungrier

Experienced Cell C Sharks hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle says he and his teammates are not taking too much notice of the fact that their opponents in Saturday’s crucial Vodacom Super Rugby clash at Jonnson Kings Park will be arriving with several forced changes.

All Black calls have forced the four fit international players who were part of the Chiefs team that beat the Stormers in Cape Town last week to fly back to New Zealand, and in addition there are several Chiefs stalwarts, among them a couple of either capped All Blacks or players who would be in contention, who are out injured.

A list that runs to 20 players who are either injured or part of the north island All Black camp can be drawn up, and already the squad that arrived in Cape Town last week included 11 players who weren’t on contract with the Chiefs at the start of the season. Two additional players were added to the group this week.

That may make it appear that the circumstance and All Black coach Steve Hansen have delivered the Sharks a gift from the rugby gods, but Ralepelle, who played his 100th Super Rugby match and has seen it all both for the Sharks and the Bulls, disagrees.

“We know that they have a few big name players at home but that doesn’t change anything,” said Ralepelle.

“If they make 10 changes it will mean they will have 10 hungrier players who will all be desperately keen to prove themselves and play their way into the regular starting line-up. It will be a big game for those guys and we will have to be up for the challenge. It means we need to be clinical, it means we need to execute better, and regardless of whether they are in possession or we are, we have to make sure we have them under pressure for the entire game.”

Under pressure is what the Highlanders were for most of the game the last time the Sharks played at home. If you factor in the hard- fought win over the Stormers in the coastal derby before that, the Sharks have won two successive home games, and with a big derby against the Lions still to come after the break, the Sharks will still fancy their chances of making the play-offs.

Although they lost to the Bulls at Loftus last weekend, the depth being developed in some key areas, and the healthy rivalry within the squad, is placing the Sharks in a good space to launch a late surge for conference honours in the same way that the team coached by John Plumtree did in 2012.

Hooker is one area where coach Robert du Preez is spoilt for option. Franco Marais probably started the season as the first choice hooker, but since learning that Marais is heading overseas at the end of the year, Du Preez has given both Akker van der Merwe and Ralepelle more game time. Van der Merwe has flourished in the starting role and was man of the match last week, but Ralepelle, who won his landmark 100th cap off the bench in Pretoria, has also been showing the form that made him a Springbok.

“I have been happy with the rotation system and the rivalry between the three hookers is a healthy one,” said Ralepelle.

“We are brothers off the field and we help each other a lot. The way I see it creating a better opponent, if you can call it that, makes myself a better player. It is healthy both for the Sharks and South Africa that there is so much competition in the position. I think Akker has great potential to play for the Boks. He showed that last week and indeed during the whole year.”

Ralepelle made his Super Rugby debut way back in 2006 and first played for the Boks in the Jake White area, famously also captaining the national team in a non-international game that concluded a tour of Ireland and the UK in 2006. Ralepelle played 69 Super Rugby games for the Bulls, with a stint playing overseas separating his Bulls career from his current one with the Sharks.

Although he says his debut in 2006 feels like it was yesterday, he says he is as hungry to achieve now as he was when he started, and says his good current form has been the product of a self-appraisal he made during the off-season.

“You always strive to be the best but I laid down the foundation when I relooked at myself and did an honest appraisal of where I was and what needed to be done to make me better. I sat down with the conditioning coaches, but also these days the mind side of things requires a lot of attention. That is one of the things that has changed quite a bit in the years I have been playing. You have to focus on your psychology so you can be up for every game,” he said.

“It has been a blessing to be part of the Sharks. The squad has been a family to me, and to get my 100th cap while wearing the Sharks jersey was very special. If you’d told me back in 2006 that I’d get 100 Super Rugby caps I would have laughed at you.”


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