‘All Black’ backline could put end to winning streak

2011-03-18 00:00

THE Sharks are hoping to end their tour down under on the highest note by beating the Chiefs in their Super Rugby game at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton today.

The log-leading Sharks took full points from their two wins in Austra­lia and they would become the first South African team to return unbeaten from a Super Rugby tour if they win today.

The Sharks, of course, still have to travel to London next week to complete their overseas commitments by playing the Crusaders at Twickenham, but a 3-0 winning record on their abridged tour of Australia and New Zealand, following their home wins over the Cheetahs and the Blues, would provide them with the perfect start to their campaign.

But beating the Chiefs on their home turf will not be easy and the Sharks, who leaked four tries against Super Rugby rookies the Rebels last Friday, will have to show a dramatic improvement in defence.

Certainly the Chiefs’ talented international backline would have been excited about what they saw in Melbourne when the Rebels exposed the Sharks midfield. (The Chiefs beat the Rebels 38-10 in Hamilton a fortnight ago).

Sharks head coach John Plumtree, in his only team change, has switched the itinerant front-rower John Smit from tighthead to loosehead and his captain will be happy about the move.

“It’s just front-row rotation and I’m resting the Beast [Mtawarira],” said Plumtree. “John [Smit] was out for the first two games so I’m giving him more game time and he’s comfortable at loosehead.”

The Sharks coach is aware his team will have to improve on their Melbourne form.

“We know what is facing us in this game,” Plumtree said yesterday. “Obviously the Chiefs are going to be pretty hungry as they haven’t had the start they’d want and it’s going to be a big game for them.”

Plumtree said the Sharks would have to improve on Melbourne and be far more accurate in defence, pointing out that the Chiefs would be fielding an all-All Black backline, apart from fullback where Tim Nanai-Williams is filling in for the injured Mils Muliaina.

“That midfield’s not too bad,” he added with a smile.

Veteran All Black Tana Umaga, who turns 38 in May, will partner Richard Kahui, who returns from injury, at centre and the Sharks’ Meyer Bosman and Stefan Terblanche (36 in July) will be under the cosh.

“Their team looks pretty strong and we’re just going to have to look after all those threats,” said Plumtree.

Chiefs coach Ian Foster said he was reluctant to make changes after several positive performances.

“There is so much good stuff happening in our game,” he said after their unlucky loss to the Hurricanes.

He said that patience, accuracy and building phases, rather than trying to score from set-piece possession every time, has been stressed to the players all week.

Clashes between these two teams have traditionally been high-scoring affairs with an average of nearly seven tries per match.

The Chiefs thrive on the counterattack and running from broken play and the Sharks’ game plan, as it was against the Blues, will be to pressure their forwards, keep their backs on their heels and close down their threatening runners behind the advantage line. The Chiefs, like most New Zealand teams, play from deep and if the Sharks stay in their faces and make their tackles, they will win.

Conversely, if the Chiefs are afforded space, time and possession to counter, if the Sharks hang back and fail to make their tackles, then Plumtree’s productive, successful tour will end on a sour note.

Teams

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (captain)

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Adrian Jacobs.

Chiefs:

15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Tana Umaga, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Scott Waldrom, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Ben May.

Replacements 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Romana Graham, 19 Fritz Lee, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Dwayne Sweeney.

Kick-off: 8.35 am (SA time, SS1). Referee: Garrat Williamson (NZ).

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