Lambie in doubt

2012-05-19 00:00

THE Sharks received a nasty jolt yesterday when Springbok Pat Lambie arrived at his late fitness test for concussion with flu and the flyhalf is now a doubt for the Super Rugby derby against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this evening.

The influential Lambie was included in the side named on Thursday but faced a final “contact” test for concussion at King’s Park early yesterday. A decision on his fitness has now been postponed until this morning, team doctor Ewoudt van der Linde confirmed.

“Pat has gone down with flu and that has just prevented us completing the concussion test,” Van der Linde told Weekend Witness yesterday.

Should Lambie be forced to withdraw, Frederic Michalak is certain to be promoted off the bench, taking over at flyhalf, with Springbok wing Odwa Ndungane joining the replacements.

The withdrawal of Lambie would result in both teams taking the field in Bloemfontein with replacements in the pivotal roles and their impact on the game could well decide the contest. Riaan Smit has taken over from the injured Johan Goosen and the out-of-touch Sias Ebersohn in the Cheetahs starting line-up while the Sharks would hope that Michalak, the former French Test flyhalf, would be a more than capable replacement if Lambie is sidelined.

The Free Staters, lively and awkward customers on their home patch, have developed a reputation for being the Sharks’ bogey team but both camps have pooh-poohed that notion.

“Yes, I know they are regarded as a bogey side for us but I don’t really know why,” coach John Plumtree said. “We certainly seem to beat them as often as they beat us.”

Well, more really, with their two wins over the Cheetahs last year giving the Sharks a 4-3 advantage in the seven Super Rugby games they have played since 2006.

Adriaan Strauss, captain of the Toyota Cheetahs, agreed: “We’re going into the match in positive mood and we are looking forward to playing the Sharks in Bloem. But we are not their bogey side as that would imply we only want to perform well against them, which isn’t true.

“We aim to win every week and this is a very tough and important game at our home ground.”

Strauss identified the Sharks’ attack from turnovers as the area of their game that concerned him most.

“The Sharks can be very dangerous from broken play and we need to ensure we keep the ball and play most of the rugby against them.”

Plumtree, in turn, said that the Cheetahs were at their most threatening when playing at home against South African opposition.

“They’ll be tough and they love these derby games.

“The intensity and physicality is going to be right up there and we have to make sure we’re ready. It will be typical trench warfare.”

The Sharks, showing character and organisation, kept the Force and Wallaby fetcher David Pocock under wraps last weekend and they face a similar challenge today with the Cheetahs’ Springbok Heinrich Brüssow posing his own set of problems at the breakdown.

“Obviously, Heinrich is a major threat to us, but if we stick to our structures, and do what we want to in terms of attack, then we’ll keep him quiet. But he’ll still be a presence,” said Plumtree.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské is looking to his players to build on their second-half showing against the Stormers a week ago when they outscored the home team 14-0 after the break but lost 16-14.

“Our physicality was good against the Stormers,” said Drotské.

“We stood our ground and played well — and we need a similar performance upfront this weekend. The Sharks’ pack is very good and they are especially strong at the breakdown. It won’t be easy.”

The Sharks’ depth on the bench could prove decisive in a tight final quarter and Plumtree has the frustrated Willem Alberts “simmering away nicely” as a counter to the Cheetahs’ key impact player, backrower Ashley Johnson.

The Sharks, with their confidence boosted by their 50-point win over the Force, are looking for their three third successive win for the first time in a see-sawing season.

They have again left their title challenge late and have to keep winning, week in and week out, to retain their top six placing and remain on the narrow, slippery path to the play-offs.

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