Beware of unbeaten Reds’ X-factor players, assistant coach warns Sharks

2012-03-15 00:00

THE Sharks have finally filled the large gap left by the injuries to looseheads Beast Mtawarira and Julian Redelinghuys and signed Griquas prop Janro van Niekerk for the next five weeks.

Both Mtawarira and Redelinghuys suffered fractured ankles in the build-up to the Super Rugby season and young Dale Chadwick, as the only remaining specialist loosehead in the Sharks squad, has played through all three games without a break.

But help is at hand with the loan of the 115 kg Van Niekerk. The 31-year-old Van Niekerk, originally from Worcester, joined Griquas this year after helping Boland win the Currie Cup first division title last year. He started his career at the Blue Bulls and represented South Africa at the IRB Nations Cup in 2008 and was a member of the Emerging Boks team at the IRB Nations Cup in Romania in 2010.

Van Niekerk will not feature against the Reds at King’s Park on Saturday evening but he will join the Sharks’ 26-man tour squad, which leaves for Australia on Sunday. The Sharks play the Waratahs, Brumbies, Hurricanes and Blues on their travels.

The new prop will be with the Sharks until their bye at the end of April when it is hoped Mtawarira will be back in action.

Plumtree this week paid tribute to Chadwick.

“He’s been going really well after an excellent Currie Cup. He’s gaining some real confidence in the scrums from getting more game time. He also does his job around the field.

“There is a lot of pressure on him because he’s playing every minute of every game, but he’s kept picking himself up each Monday and soldiering on. His attitude has been outstanding and that’s good for the future.”

While Plumtree has been concerned about the squad’s depth at prop, the Reds are more concerned about the Sharks’ abrasive hooker Bismarck du Plessis.

The Super Rugby champions regard Du Plessis as the world’s leading hooker now that he is no longer playing in the shadow of John Smit.

“There’s no doubt, Bismarck is in everything for the Sharks,” Reds coach Ewen McKenzie said after the Reds arrived in Durban.

“He’s very influential, a powerful guy who is no doubt relishing the clear air to play more minutes [now that Smit has left].”

McKenzie told reporters that the Sharks offered fresh challenges.

“They are a good mauling team off lineouts and they apply pressure chasing high balls.”

McKenzie said he was surprised that the Reds were still being criticised for their lack of adventure and said he was satisfied with the rugby they had played in remaining unbeaten.

“Teams like the Crusaders and the Waratahs have won one from three. We’re three from three so it’s all relative,” he said.

Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford is certainly not dismissing the Reds as an attacking force even though Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper is missing with injury.

“Quade Cooper is unique, but Mike Harris brings a different threat,” Bashford said.

“He’s a big boy, he kicks the ball well, he is evasive and he takes the ball to the line.

“But the Reds are full of threats throughout the backline. They have X-factor players scattered about and it’s going to be a really good challenge for us on the weekend,” he said.

Both Plumtree and Bashford said the Reds had still not found the form that won them the title last year.

The match kicks off at 5.05 pm on Saturday.

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