Injured Beast to miss opener

2009-02-10 00:00

Beast Mtawarira, the 116 kg Springbok loosehead prop, seems certain to miss Saturday’s Super 14 opener against the Stormers in Cape Town.

The powerful, mobile front-row forward is struggling to shake off a sternum injury, and Sharks head coach John Plumtree admitted yesterday that he is reluctant to rush him back into action.

“With 13 games in 14 weeks it makes little sense to risk him now.”

Plumtree pointed out that the front row strength of the Sharks — they have five Springboks to cover the three positions — is vital to their success.

“Fortunately, we have Deon Carstens in good nick and John Smit has had quality time in the pre-season.”

He admitted the injuries in the front row, which have delayed the preparation of Mtawarira, Carstens and the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, are a concern.

“We’re not in the best shape we’ve been in with our front row, but we will still have a strong one on Saturday. The lack of game time for the front row will make us less effective.”

Even without Mtawarira, Plumtree has permutations, but his line-up will depend on whether he tosses Bismarck du Plessis, at hooker, and tighthead Jannie du Plessis straight into action or uses one of them off the bench with Smit starting.

Indeed, Bok hooker Smit, now regarded at Test and Super 14 level as a reborn prop, has played in all three front-row positions and could act as cover for Carstens and the Du Plessis brothers on Saturday.

Plumtree regards Stormers breakaway Schalk Burger as a key figure in the contest.

“He is the kind of guy who can turn a game on its head by causing havoc at breakdown, so we have to be really smart in the way we look after our possession and hopefully take him out of the game in terms of how we play.”

Burger, recovering from injury, has not had any game time this year, so Plumtree expects him “to be a bit rusty”.

“But he’s world-class in his position and we must make sure our players arrive at same time, if not earlier, than him to the breakdown.”

Plumtree said he is also wary of Stormers wing Tonderai Chavhanga.

“He is really dangerous from broken play. If they get good ball wide, he could take us to pieces.”

Plumtree said the Sharks have to show some patience this season.

“You need to remember that we have a new inside back combination [scrumhalf Rory Kockott, flyhalf Ruan Pienaar and inside centre Frans Steyn] from last season.

“They will grow and get better as they gain confidence. Kockott offers different things in terms of attack and defence to Ruan at scrumhalf, and Pienaar is different to Fred Michalak at flyhalf.

Suddenly, Frans Steyn has two different players inside him and they will take time to click. But we will persevere.”

The Sharks coach believes the battle at nine, 10 and 12 could decide the war on Saturday. He said that Steyn, who has been made lucrative offers from overseas clubs, is an integral part of the Sharks’ plans this season.

“He is a happy camper at training and he has a chance on Saturday to compete against Jean de Villiers [the current Bok inside centre].”

The New Zealander refused to hype up the importance of the game.

“It won’t be the end of the world if lose — it’s about having a go, hoping it goes your way and, if not, picking yourself up for the next game. There is character and leadership in this team and we won’t give up.”

Possible Sharks team: Stefan Terblanche, Odwa Ndungane, Adi Jacobs, Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar, Rory Kockott, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Johann Muller (captain), Steven Sykes, Jannie du Plessis, John Smit/Bismarck du Plessis, Deon Carstens.

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