Crunch time for Sharks coach as he selects team

2010-03-25 00:00

SHARKS head coach John Plumtree is waiting on late fitness reports on a number of his “banged up” players before announcing the team to face the Hurricanes in the Super 14 game in Wellington on Saturday.

The Sharks are at the end of a nightmarish five-match Super 14 tour and Plumtree only had 16 fit players at practice at the start of the week, “after four weekends of very tough rugby”, punctuated by trips back and forth across the Tasman Sea.

The Sharks started their tour against the Crusaders in Christchurch a month ago, and have since also played the Waratahs, the Brumbies and the Highlanders. They are now almost back to where they started, with their final game in Wellington this weekend.

While the Australasian teams complain about the problems of occasionally playing three games on their South African tour, at least two of the South African sides have five games on their travels every competition, and this year it is the turn of the Sharks and Lions to suffer.

Plumtree has definitely lost one player to injury, with Springbok lock Johann Muller breaking a finger against the Highlanders last Saturday, but he will have been encouraged by the lively form shown by replacement Alistair Hargreaves, a late addition to the tour party.

Flanks Keegan Daniel and Jean Deysel, prop Jannie du Plessis and flyhalf, Englishman Andy Goode, are also nursing injuries. Plumtree is waiting for today’s practice to see who is available.

His selection at flyhalf — Goode or Ruan Pienaar — is obviously crucial, while he has readymade replacements for Daniel (Jacques Botes) and Deysel (Willem Alberts), and John Smit could return to tighthead if Du Plessis is sidelined.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes, beaten in all three games in South Africa, returned home on Tuesday to criticism from former All Blacks number eight Murray Mexted.

Mexted, who once played for the then Natal and is now a television commentator, criticised the Hurricanes’ tactical approach, advising them to go back to basics if they hope to beat the Sharks and resurrect their Super 14 season.

Coach Colin Cooper’s Hurricanes have dropped from second to eighth after their three tour losses.

Their 19-18 loss to the Bulls at Loftus last weekend was largely as a result of their inability to handle the Bulls’ rolling maul and their up-and-unders.

The rolling maul is not new, Mexted told reporters.

“It looked to me like they should be doing the things that have been successful in the past. You compete aggressively at lineout time so they can’t take the ball cleanly with two hands, you sack them immediately before the maul is formed and before they can get a rolling maul going. And three, you have to muscle up. That’s the only way to do it because you can’t walk away.”

The Hurricanes attempted to stand back from the maul to bring the off side “truck and trailer” law into play, but referee Steve Walsh, at times controversially, ignored their efforts and the Bulls regularly marched upfield.

Mexted added that he was otherwise impressed with the Hurricanes’ efforts, adding that they can still reach the Super 14 playoffs “if their option-taking and basic skills improve”.

Saturday’s big match kicks off at 8.35 am.

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