‘A bruising encounter awaits’

2011-03-03 00:00

The Force aim to target 20-year-old Sharks flyhalf Pat Lambie when the teams meet in their Super Rugby game in Perth on Saturday.

The Western Australian franchise will be having their second outing of the competition after coming frustratingly close to beating the Reds in Brisbane in their opening game — they went down by one point — and then having bye last weekend.

A pre-season foot injury to their off-season signing Willie Ripia, who moved to Perth from the Hurricanes, has resulted in the Force playing the precociously talented James O’Connor at flyhalf.

O’Connor, also 20, has already proved a matchwinner for the Wallabies, and has played Test rugby at both wing and fullback. He has slipped easily into the pivot role in Perth and had the better of Australian Test flyhalf Quade Cooper in Brisbane.

Coach Richard Graham is hoping the Force can break the Sharks’ rhythm by closing down Lambie, who scored 21 points and returned a man-of-the-match performance in the Sharks’ 26-12 win over the Blues in Durban at the weekend.

The Force pressured Cooper by coming off their line quickly and cutting down his space and time and they will be looking for a repeat performance against Lambie.

Force lock Nathan Sharpe, the most experienced second-rower in Australian history, says his team are ready and waiting for the Sharks.

“Our first home game of the new season comes at a terrific time for us. While we had a bye last weekend, we trained extremely hard with a view to tapering our preparations leading into the Sharks game on Saturday night.

“I can tell you that the men in blue are refreshed and excited about the upcoming battle at our home ground in front of our loyal supporters. The Sharks have had a fast start to the season with two wins and have a strong forward pack which loves physical confrontation.

“These are the games that are great to play in. We know what’s coming and a bruising encounter awaits,” Sharpe said yesterday.

Graham has also identified Bismarck du Plessis as a danger. The Force have long admired the qualities of the Sharks’ abrasive hooker and attempted to sign him in 2008.

“Having Bismarck du Plessis gives them some genuine go forward,” Graham told reporters. “Their backrow [Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts and Keegan Daniel] are big men, and again will give them go-forward.

“The Sharks were impressive against the Blues, a big physical side. I’m not surprised with the way they played.

“For us, this weekend is about trying to put as much pressure on them at the set-piece as we can and also controlling the gainline.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard. The boys are very keen to get started,” said Graham.

Sharks coach John Plumtree will name his starting line-up today and very few changes are expected to a team still settling in at the start of the season.

Captain John Smit, who came off the bench in the final quarter against the Blues and, uncharacteristically, battled with his lineout throwing, is likely to start, but almost certainly at loosehead with Beast Mtawarira playing off the bench. Plumtree named him as one of his starting props against the Cheetahs, but he was a late withdrawal with a calf muscle strain.

The other change could see JP Pietersen, also over his muscle strain, starting on the wing in place of Odwa Ndungane.

And with two successive victories, the mood is far more positive than it was last year when the Sharks lost their first five games — “and everyone was hating me,” added Plumtree with a smile

Saturday’s game kicks off at 1.05 pm and New Zealand referee Keith Brown will be in charge.

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