Jump start

2010-03-06 00:00

THE Sharks, mauled by their opponents on the field and mugged by their detractors off it, are desperate to jump-start their Super 14 season by somehow downing the Waratahs in Sydney today.

Three successive defeats have left the Sharks on the bottom of the log — a fourth loss today will almost certainly end their Super 14 challenge for another year — and they have provided their critics with plenty of ammunition while sending the rumour mill into overdrive.

Few observers believe they can win today, not on what was seen from the Waratahs against the Bulls last weekend, not on the previous records between these two teams and not on the rugby the Sharks have played this season.

There are so many questions being asked of the Sharks. How quickly and effectively will Englishman Andy Goode settle into a new playing pattern, and will Ruan Pienaar immediately find his feet at scrumhalf? How will the revamped pack, with Deon Carstens suddenly starting at loosehead and John Smit back at hooker, cope with the Wallaby scrum? How will the Sharks contain the Waratahs’ aggression and organisation at the breakdown?

The Waratahs, with their high-tempo, ball-in-the-hand approach, startled the Bulls at Loftus and they certainly looked a highly competent unit. The Sharks, in contrast, have played most of their rugby on the wrong side of the gainline and they have been unable to create pressure.

What will also count in the Waratahs’ favour is the mental and physical edge they hold over the Sharks who have not won in Sydney since 2000.

Waratahs captain Phil Waugh yesterday highlighted the importance of their first home game after two losses on the road.

“The next three weeks will shape our season. It is a big game and both teams are pretty desperate.”

Sharks coach John Plumtree has three of his most physical forwards — Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jean Deysel — on the bench and Waugh sees that as a tactical ploy.

“They’ve been in their games for the first 60 minutes and fallen away at the end and perhaps having that depth on the bench and bringing them into the game will work for them.”

He added that the Waratahs will target new flyhalf Goode. “Goode is obviously new to the Super 14, so we will be looking to put a lot of pressure on him.”

What will work in the Sharks’ favour is that the bruised Waratahs have made the long haul back from South Africa this week — and we saw what that did to the Chiefs in their upset loss to the Reds yesterday — while their defence has leaked 103 points in the first three rounds.

Still, the Sharks have shown so little on attack this season that it would take the most dramatic reversal of form today if they were to win by scoring tries.

The match will not be short of needle, as Waratahs flyhalf Daniel Halangahu was quick to point out — “there has been a bit of spite between the two teams over the years” — with the NSW team regularly having the last laugh.

But the emphasis for the Sharks is not on past history but on halting the downward spiral, says coach Plumtree.

“That’s all we’ve talked about this week, but it’s very tough mentally.”

Plumtree said the Waratahs showed their quality against the Bulls — “to score 38 points against the Bulls, that’s impressive.”

He is looking to the Sharks to “change the way we’re playing because what we’ve done has not been good enough.

“We have made selection changes and it will be up to the players that have been picked to now do the job,” he added.

Again, however, it looks a bridge too far for Plumtree’s under-performing players and Sharks supporters back home will be preparing for another gloomy weekend.

TEAMS

WARATAHS

15 Sosene Anesi, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Tom Carter, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.

Replacements 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Will Caldwell, 19 Ben Mowen, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kurtley Beale, 22 Rob Horne.

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 Keegan Daniel, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Deon Carstens.

Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Waylon Murray.

Referee: Paul Marks (Australia).

ON TV

Kick-off: 10.40am – M-Net and SSpt 1

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