Hungry sharks seeking Brumbies upset

2010-03-13 00:00

THE Sharks are desperately hoping to go where only two South African teams have been before when they take on the Brumbies in their Super 14 game in Canberra today.

South African teams have lost 33 of the 35 Super games played at the Canberra Stadium and the Sharks, on a depressing downward cycle after four successive defeats, are regarded as no-hopers by both friend and foe.

The Sharks did show some improvement against the Waratahs last week, but still lost to a tired team playing sterile, disjointed rugby. The Brumbies will be more slick in taking the ball patiently through the phases instead of kicking it away — as the Waratahs did — and the Sharks will have to improve in every area to stay in the contest.

The Sharks’ defence did creak ominously on the few occasions that the Waratahs did run at them last Saturday, and the Brumbies, helped by the new-look law at the breakdown and an excellent back row, are masters at building phases and will provide an even more daunting test.

“If they are allowed to play on the front foot, their game-breakers in the back line will pose a real threat,” Sharks coach John Plumtree conceded. “We have to be smarter at the breakdowns.”

The Brumbies have one of the more talented playmakers in world rugby in flyhalf Matt Giteau, while fellow-Wallabies, the powerful centre Stirling Mortlock and the alert fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper, are key figures in their attacking back line.

But the Sharks will also need to match a well-equipped, all-Wallaby back row of veteran George Smith, the hard-driving, physical Rocky Elsom and captain and number eight Stephen Hoiles.

The Sharks, if they are to challenge, need to break the Brumbies’ rhythm by placing them under pressure at the set pieces and at the breakdown. The Sharks line-out has been effective all season, but their scrum has been inconsistent. It worked well a week ago in Sydney, but today they return to the Bok front-row and John Smit, back at tighthead, will again be under the spotlight.

Sharks’ supporters will also be looking for a more positive, confident showing from their team on attack and, with fullback Stefan Terblanche leading the way, they need to show more adventure with ball in hand.

The Sharks, backed hard against the wall, are certain to be physical and Brumbies coach Andy Friend is wary.

“When you haven’t had a win, you’re fighting for everything you can to make sure you get one,” he said.

“Watching the Sharks last week [against the Waratahs] you could see a lot of passion in the way they were playing; there was a lot of ambition and desire in the way they were playing, and intent.

“And we’re expecting them to definitely have that against us.”

For the second week in a row, the Sharks will have a rookie referee from the reserve (rather than merit) panel handling their game. New Zealander Garrat Williamson is in charge of only his second Super 14 game today, after making his debut last year, and Sharks supporters, after the frustrations of last week, will be hoping that this time the marginal decisions will fall in their favour.

Certainly they need every piece of good luck on offer. The bookies, looking at history, form, the confidence of the two teams and their relative strengths, are confident that the Sharks’ misery will continue in Canberra today.

In contrast, the most optimistic Sharks supporters will be simply clutching at the last remaining straws and hoping that it is time for the wheel to turn.

More rugby, Super 14 fixtures and standings

TEAMS

Brumbies: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Stirling Mortlock, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Stephen Hoiles (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Salesi Maafu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.

Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Guy Shepherdson, 18 Justin Harrison, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Matt Toomua, 22 Tyrone Smith.

Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 John Smit (c), 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Keegan Daniel , 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Waylon Murray.

Referee: Garrat Williamson (NZ).

Kick-off: 10.40am (Mnet and SS1).

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