History at home will count for nothing

2013-03-16 00:00

AT first blush the Sharks’ home ground advantage will count for little when they face the log-leading Brumbies in the clash of unbeaten Super Rugby teams at King’s Park this evening.

The new-look Brumbies are currently the best travellers in the competition and success tonight will give them a record seven successive away wins. This would be the longest winning streak on the road in the 18-year history of Super Rugby after the Brumbies finished last season with five successive away victories.

While away games hold no terror for the Brumbies, their record at King’s Park is not good and the Sharks can look back on beating them in six of their last seven games in Durban.

But of course, history will count for nothing in the heat of an 80-minute battle when a flash of brilliance or an individual decision by player or referee could be decisive.

The emphasis of the rival coaches in the build-up to this game has been intriguing. While the Sharks’ John Plumtree is looking for an improved attack, Jake White says aggressive defence will be key to a Brumbies’ victory.

“We want to be able to build pressure and play better on attack, certainly a lot better than we did against the Kings,” said Plumtree.

He has reason to be concerned, with the Sharks having scored only two tries, both against the Cheetahs, in three outings.

Plumtree is looking to Charl McLeod, recalled at scrumhalf, to provide the spark, while captain and flank Keegan Daniel, in his first start this year, will add pace and creativity to the Sharks backrow.

White’s plan, in contrast, is to strangle the Sharks with “brutal defence”.

“We see defence as an opportunity to attack. We’ve got some really quick players out wide, so if we turn the ball over and send it out wide, there’s no reason why we can’t tear teams to pieces,” said White.

White’s ingredients for a team’s success are defence and fitness. This year, the Brumbies have leaked only one try (while scoring 10) in 240 minutes of rugby and they have yet to concede a point in the second half of their last three games.

While Plumtree has urged his charges to cast aside their inhibitions and play a more attacking game, he also warned that the humid, slippery Durban conditions would be a problem. “Playing rugby at this time of year in Durban is not easy and there will still be some kicking,” said Plumtree.

But he warned that the Sharks’ Pat Lambie and company would have to be accurate in their execution.

“If we kick poorly, they have an outstanding fullback [Jesse Mogg] who can punish us.”

The lightning-quick Mogg and Brumbies captain and backrower Ben Mowen have shown excellent early-season form and are considered strong candidates to play for the Wallabies against the British Lions later this year.

The Sharks, up against a well-drilled, balanced outfit, will aim to pick up where they left off against the Stormers and squeeze the Brumbies at forward.

Plumtree has welcomed the appointment of an experienced referee Jonathan Kaplan who will keep an eye on the nefarious activities of the Brumbies’ front-rowers.

“We’re hoping they don’t get away with trying to depower our scrum and that he will also be really strict on the breakdown.”

The Sharks back row, missing the burly Jean Deysel, is relatively light and they will be tested on the ground and the gainline by the experienced Wallaby fetcher George Smith and his imposing, 115 kg fellow-loose forwards, Mowen and Fotu Auelua.

Incidentally, the Brumbies are going to remarkable lengths in chasing victory and have even imposed a blanket ban on booze.

“This group is extremely motivated,” said Mowen, adding that the players [Australians, remember] understood that the decision had been taken to ensure a better performance.”

It promises to be a tight, tactical contest between two well-matched teams.

The Brumbies are in form, confident they can keep winning on the road and they are astutely coached by someone who knows South African rugby as well as anyone. They pose a formidable challenge — but so do the hard-nosed Sharks who are exceedingly difficult to beat at King’s Park.

Ask the Stormers.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Francois Steyn, 11. JP Pietersen, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Keegan Daniel (captain), 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Cobus Reinach, 21. Meyer Bosman, 22. Lwazi Mvovo

Brumbies: 15. Jesse Mogg, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 12. Christian Lealiifano, 11. Joe Tomane, 10. Matt Toomua, 9. Nic White, 8. Fotu Auelua, 7. George Smith, 6. Ben Mowen (captain), 5. Sam Carter, 4. Peter Kimlin, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Scott Sio

Replacements: 16. Siliva Siliva, 17. Ruaidhri Murphy, 18. Scott Fardy, 19. Colby Faingaa, 20. Ian Prior, 21. Robbie Coleman, 22. Clyde Rathbone.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan. Kick-off: 5.05 pm.

Fixtures today (home team first, SA times): Crusaders v Bulls 8.35 am; Reds v Force 10.40 am; Sharks v Brumbies 5.05 pm.

Byes: Blues, Rebels, Stormers.

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