Home form key for Sharks

2008-02-15 00:00

THE Sharks may have lost their core of experience in the close season, but like it or not, they will be under fierce pressure when they face the Western Force in their Super 14 opener at King’s Park tonight.

Certainly the crowds — if they can negotiate the obstacle course that the Durban municipality has erected around the stadium — will flock to King’s Park this evening, anticipating a Sharks win.

The unexpected success of the Sharks last season, when they came within a couple of agonising seconds of taking the title, allied to the World Cup triumph of the Springboks in Paris, has created a winning mentality in South African rugby and a high level of expectation.

Sharks coach Dick Muir is aware of the dangers, and this week has been at pains to point out the quality of a threatening Force team. And the words were aimed as much at his players as they were at those fans who are taking victory for granted.

“This is a very good Force side and I reckon they will be semi-final contenders,” he said yesterday.

“They play a high tempo game, they have most of their players back from last season when they beat us, they have a half-dozen World Cup Wallabies and they will be well prepared by one of the best analytical coaches around in John Mitchell.”

You do not have to own a crystal ball to predict that Muir will look to blunt the Force at forward. Muir has two complete front-rows in his squad of 22, while he has named a split of five forwards and two backs on the bench.

The Force have four World Cup players in their backline in the world-class playmaker Matt Giteau at flyhalf with Drew Mitchell, Scott Staniforth and Cameron Shepherd at outside threequarter.

Restricting their space and attacking options, while creating and maintaining their own momemtum, will be crucial if the Sharks are to open their testing campaign with a win.

The Sharks, if they are to repeat their heroics of last year, have to win their home games. The draw is certainly stacked against them with only six home games and seven on the most testing of road trips, and they need to start well on home turf.

The Sharks camp yesterday announced that Frederic Michalak had shaken his slight calf injury and has been cleared to play at flyhalf.

The Force have also defied the Australian Rugby Union in, firstly, selecting former Wallaby scrumhalf Matt Henjak for the South African tour and, secondly, including him in tonight’s team after a bar brawl that left team-mate Haig Sare with a broken jaw last weekend.

TEAMS:

Sharks: Francois Steyn, JP Pietersen, Waylon Murray, Bradley Barritt, Henno Mentz, Frederic Michalak, Ruan Pienaar, Ryan Kankowski, AJVenter, Jacques Botes, Johann Muller (captain), Johan Ackermann, BJ Botha, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.

Reserves: Craig Burden Kees Lensing, Jannie du Plessis, Albert van den Berg, Jean Deysel, . Rory Kockott, Adrian Jacobs

Western Force: Cameron Shepherd, Nick Cummins, Ryan Cross, Scott Staniforth, Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Matt Henjak, Richard Brown, David Pocock, Scott Fava, Nathan Sharpe (captain), David Pusey, AJ Walley, Tai McIsaac, Gareth Hardy.

Reserves: Luke Holmes, Troy Takiari, Sitaleki Timani, Matt Hodgson, James Stannard, Scott Daruda, Josh Tatupu

Kick-off: 7.10 pm

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