Battle of the HALVES

2008-04-26 00:00

Despite the sacking of coach Ewen McKenzie, the Waratahs seem to have found their best form of recent times.

Last year’s tournament was a write-off in the absence of stalwarts Phil Waugh and Dan Vickermann, and a year ago, they were fighting to avoid the wooden spoon, but with young stars like flyhalf Kurtley Beale (19) and scrumhalf Luke Burgess (24), both tipped for higher honours alongside the team’s established core, the Waratahs find themselves fighting for a home semi-final.

The half-back pairing is up against the physical Rory Kockott and the mercurial Frederic Michalak, and the contest is being savoured at both player and media level.

The newspapers have been writing up the duel between schoolboy prodigy Kurtley Beale and the French maestro Michalak. “He is a very exciting player,” Beale said of Michalak in the Sydney Morning Herald. “He has a lot of Tests under his belt for the French, but I have been playing against your Dan Carters and your Matt Giteaus, so I am just going to treat it like another game, playing against one of those blokes. I am going to stick to my game plan, stick to my little goals and try and forget about him. If he pops up, he pops up.”

Burgess played scrumhalf at the Brumbies, gaining only two caps for the Canberra side before moving to Sydney, and has only recently started getting game time for the Waratahs.

Beale claims that Burgess is “an exciting player who has a lot of energy and skill. He has a lot of speed off the mark but there are still a lot of things we are developing as a combination.”

Sharks scrumhalf Rory Kockott believes that the opposition halfback area is one where the Sharks have an opportunity to attack.

“They are young and inexperienced and that creates opportunities to put pressure on them, to put the heat on them, to try and cause a few problems and hopefully get a few advantages out of the game.”

However, unlike the Waratahs, he does not believe it is advisable to focus too much on one aspect of the opposition. “You can’t make too much of a combination. Any combination on the field is important, whether it is eight-nine, nine-10, the centres, the flanks, so as long as you’re playing well together, there are always going to be opportunities.”

Just as Beale admits that he has played against some quality opposition, and will treat Michalak as just another opponent, so Kockott explains that despite the praise-singing that follows Beale, “he’s one of a whole lot of young players in the Super 14 this year”.

“He’s playing well, but you can’t expect great things from him all the time.”

The winner of this match will edge ever closer to a home semi-final, while the loser faces the danger of being overtaken by the chasing pack, making this a vital match for both sides. “It’s almost a top-of-the-table clash, which is just as important for us as it is for them,” says Kockott.

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