Fight or flight for the Reds against the Sharks

2009-03-09 00:00

THE Sharks arrived in Brisbane on Sunday in high spirits following their haul of nine log points from the two games in New Zealand and with two matches remaining on tour — against the Reds on Saturday and the Force in Perth the following week.

They are well-placed to take that confidence into the next two games and return home with a handy collection of points before playing the rest of the pool stage back in South Africa, six of the seven games at home.

The Sharks may have one or two injury concerns but the Reds, their opposition on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane in the fifth round of the Super 14, are facing a crisis, especially amongst the forwards as key players in prop Greg Holmes and lineout kingpin Van Humphries are both set to miss Saturday’s match.

Humphries, who handles the lineout calls, missed the final half-hour of the weekend’s match against the Waratahs, their lineout in pieces following his departure with a damaged shoulder and neck injury. The Reds’ scrum also battled against their old foes and coach Phil Mooney is aware of the potential danger that lies at set pieces.

“We’ll get exposed at the set piece if we’re not up to scratch,” he admitted to the Courier Mail. “Some technical adjustments will help but a certain amount of mental application also needs to be more apparent.”

The Sharks have been in a very fortunate position thus far with only two injuries and a host of players returning from injury. With clever planning dating back to the Currie Cup where a number of youngsters were blooded in preparation for this year’s Super 14, mixed with outstanding pre-season training and conditioning and a bit of luck thrown in for good measure, the depth in the squad is at present holding up well.

“At some stage of the competition we will be really tested with our depth,” admitted coach John Plumtree yesterday, “and hopefully we can get through.”

The challenge this week is to maintain the mental strength and hunger after a tough start to the tournament. The Sharks have done the unthinkable by winning their opening two matches on tour and they will need to be at their best against the Reds on Saturday. Still unbeaten four games into the tournament, another win on the road would be a big step towards the play-offs; conversely, a loss could undo the good work done so far, and this is not lost on the players and coaching staff.

“It’s only round four but if we can win another game — in Australia — we’ve achieved what we set out to do on tour,” explained Plumtree. “New Zealand is a tough place to get wins, so we will go into the next games taking a lot of confidence into them, but we need to keep everyone fit and avoid injuries, because in some areas we’re a bit thin on depth.”

The Sharks are sending former SA U19 captain Alistair Hargreaves home after he damaged his ankle against the Blues and left the field on Saturday. With Albert van den Berg fully recovered from his pre-season setback, the Sharks are fortunate in the quality of their back-up and the team that will be selected for the Reds game should not differ significantly from the team that beat the Blues.

And so, like a cornered animal, it’s fight or flight for the Reds. Their reponse will be known at about midday on Saturday (SA time).

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