Leopards, Sharks at Woodburn

2013-02-08 00:00

THE Sharks dip into a new season tonight when they face the Leopards in a pre-season friendly at Woodburn Stadium — and rugby supporters in the Midlands are urged to catch them while they can.

It is a special occasion for the headquarters of Pietermaritzburg rugby. Not only are the Sharks rarely spotted in this part of the world, neither are the Woodburn Stadium floodlights.

Indeed, we are only being treated to a night of rugby in the capital city because the Msunduzi Municipality, in a spirit of bonhomie, have generously agreed to play ball and turn on the lights.

Otherwise, and because the Midlands Rugby Sub-Union cannot afford to pay the electricity bill, Woodburn Stadium is strictly a daytime facility.

But, for the moment, the Sharks are here and they will play to an expectant audience tonight, one that will be hoping the rain stays away.

The Sharks have shown in the past two seasons that they are serious title contenders. Coach John Plumtree still has all his key Springboks — with the current exception of injured hooker Bismarck du Plessis — and he is convinced the squad is still maturing with the younger players building on a season or two in top-flight rugby.

But with depth in the squad comes competition for places and there is no shortage of incentive for the players tonight.

“We have had weeks of good preparation,” said Plumtree.

“The Leopards have always provided stiff opposition in the contact areas and that is what our players need.”

Plumtree is looking for a solid showing in the set-pieces where the spotlight will be on the new lock pairing of former Lions captain Franco van der Merwe and Pieter-Steph du Toit, and the young front-row of Wiehahn Herbst, Kyle Cooper and Allan Dell.

There should be plenty to amuse and entertain behind the scrum where the Sharks will field a host of familiar names including the current Springbok flyhalf Pat Lambie and a new captain on the night, burly Test centre Frans Steyn.

The return of Steyn to the Sharks has resulted in Tim Whitehead, a regular at inside centre last year, switching to 13.

Partnering Lambie at halfback is the experienced Charl McLeod and he and Cobus Reinach are likely to spend the season squabbling over the scrumhalf position.

A number of the Sharks’ current Boks are not in the match squad tonight, but this does provide an opening for a number of young players who are certain to be involved in a marathon season of Super Rugby.

Little is known about the Leopards. They are captained by experienced lock Brendon Snyman and they will be direct, robust and physical. But they will not be as well-prepared as the Sharks and could battle to stay the pace in the second half.

While the other South African Super Rugby teams have opted for warm-up games against high profile teams, the Sharks believe they can achieve their objectives against platteland opposition (the Leopards today and the Pumas next Friday).

Assistant coach Grant Bashford said there was no right or wrong way to prepare for the season.

“The Leopards and the Pumas will provide the physical challenge we need, no doubt of that. These games will also allow us to work on our team structures and, we hope, build some confidence ahead of Super Rugby.”

Plumtree agreed.

“It’s exactly what we want. We’ve had a good pre-season and now they can get excited about playing.”

He will hope that the Sharks quickly settle into their structures, perform strongly in the set pieces and play with some style. And, if the players can also steer clear of any injury, it will be an evening well spent under the Woodburn lights.

TEAMS

Sharks:

15. Riaan Viljoen 14. Odwa Ndungane 13. Tim Whitehead 12. Francois Steyn (Captain) 11. Lwazi Mvovo 10. Patrick Lambie 9. Charl McLeod 8. Lubabalo Mtembu 7. Jean Deysel 6. Jacques Botes 5. Franco van der Merwe 4. Pieter-Steph du Toit 3. Wiehahn Herbst 2. Kyle Cooper 1. Allan Dell

Replacements:16. Craig Burden 17. Tendai Mtawarira 18. Jandre Marais 19. Anton Bresler 20. Keegan Daniel 21. Cobus Reinach 22. Meyer Bosman 23. Paul Jordaan 24. Louis Ludick.

Leopards:

15. Heindrich Smit 14.Andrew van Wyk 13. Charl Weideman 12. Adriaan Engelbrecht 11. Edmar Marais, 10. Johnny Welthagen 9.Jaco Grobler 8. James Meecham 7. Robert Kruger 6. Arno Nel 5. Brendon Snyman (captain) 4. Peet van der Walt 3. Stephan Bezuidenhout 2. Chris Conraad 1. Ian Gregorowski.

Replacements: 16. Akker van der Merwe 17. Stefan Schoeman 18. Elardus Venter 19, James Marx 20. Danie Jordaan 21. Malherbe Swart 22. Jacques Olivier.

Kick-off: 7 pm.

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