Another blow for Sharks

2008-07-25 00:00

Injury yesterday returned to haunt the Sharks — and boost the Lions — when both French flyhalf Frederic Michalak and inside centre Brad Barritt withdrew from this evening’s Currie Cup match at King’s Park.

Sharks coach John Plumtree said that Michalak, suffering from a sore hip, had “trained well on Thursday, but woke up feeling like an old man”, while injury-plagued Barritt suffered a grade one hamstring strain at practice.

Andries Strauss returns in midfield for Barritt, while Plumtree said that Ruan Pienaar will take over at flyhalf with Scott Mathie at scrumhalf.

Plumtree had been hoping to start with Pienaar at scrumhalf, but said yesterday that the versatile Springbok will bring direction and penetration to the backline.

Big names, as Plumtree has pointed out, do not make rugby teams, but the New Zealand coach will be looking to a couple of his returning Boks to kick-start the Sharks’ Currie Cup campaign.

The Sharks, in contrast to last year when they were even more depleted but played with enthusiasm and some panache, are stuttering their way through the Currie Cup season, short of conviction, continuity, commitment and tries.

They were badly exposed by the Free Staters last weekend and this evening, at home and against the Lions’ thinly-disguised Super 14 side, they will be under pressure to start playing to their obvious potential.

Plumtree told The Weekend Witness the reason the Sharks were struggling this season was obvious — “we have lost many of the ball-carriers from last season”.

“We lack penetration, we lack some of the powerful runners of last season, big guys that can get the ball over the advantage line as the Bulls, Lions and Cheetahs do.”

He is looking to returning players to make a difference.

“Having players like Jean Deysel, Ryan Kankowski and the Beast [Mtawarira] back will help us to breach defences … this is what you need to gain momentum.”

A couple of Boks will obviously not do the job on their own, but they may well provide the spark that ignites those around them. The Sharks have the experience — nine of their team have seen Test action — if not the form, while the Lions have the edge in continuity with nearly all their players remaining involved after the Super 14.

Coach Eugene Eloff’s plans were disrupted on Thursday when both flyhalf Louis Strydom and Bok centre Jaque Fourie withdrew, but he easily covered the gaps by rearranging his familiar backline talents — Earl Rose to flyhalf, Louis Ludik to fullback and Jaco Pretorius to centre.

The Lions remain a well-balanced, organised team and with flank Cobus Grobbelaar leading the way, are particularly effective at the breakdown.

The Sharks have been told all week how dreadful they were in Bloemfontein last Saturday and tonight they have the incentive, an injection of fresh talent and the home support to turn their season around. But only if they want it enough.

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