Muir depends on Michalak to guide young Sharks

2007-12-22 00:00

WHILE ambitious youth rather than battle-hardened experience is a feature of the revised Sharks Super 14 training squad named yesterday, it is the impact of French Test flyhalf Frédéric Michalak that is firing the enthusiasm of coach Dick Muir.

Muir trimmed down his pre-season training squad to 37 names and a number of grizzled veterans are missing. World Cup heroes John Smit, Percy Montgomery and Butch James are strutting their stuff on foreign fields while Johan Ackermann is resting tired, 37-year-old legs.

Still, Muir was able to name 17 internationals — 15 Springboks along with a Frenchman and Namibian captain Kees Lensing — in his squad.

Muir believes that the Sharks’ consistency may suffer because the steadying hands of experienced players are missing, but he is convinced that his young squad, inspired by the 25-year-old Michalak, will excite and entertain the crowds.

The Sharks coach cannot say enough about his high-profile French signing.

“Michalak has been absolutely fantastic. The squad has been working flat-out for five weeks, and it has been tough and it has been hard, but he has not missed a session,” said Muir.

“I think the French Test team will really miss him because he is now fit and conditioned. He oozes class and our young backs will blossom outside him.”

The squad, without Ackermann and with Steven Sykes making his way back from shoulder surgery, may lack some depth and physical presence at lock and loose forward, but one or two more signings are still possible and a number of up-country players are reportedly keen to move to Durban.

One has already been signed: the 110-kg Lions U21 lock/loose forward Rudi Mathee, who has earned rave reviews this year. Mathee was rated the best U21 player at the Lions in 2007 and coach Timmy Goodwin said he was not surprised that the Sharks had signed him

“Rudi had a brilliant season and it is no wonder that he caught the attention of the Sharks. He is a hard worker who hates to lose. He’s got a brilliant future ahead,” said Goodwin.

Also in the squad are new signings Frank Wagenstroom, the former Western Province, Free State and SA U21 wing; Falcons scrum-half Charl McLeod, who will provide back-up to Ruan Pienaar and Rory Kockott; Jannie du Plessis; and Stefan Terblanche, back permanently from the UK and now on a Super 14 contract after an impressive 2007 Currie Cup campaign.

Muir said that props Deon Carstens, BJ Botha and Pat Cilliers, who all finished 2007 on the injury list, are recovering well. The promising young tighthead Cilliers, who underwent major knee surgery, has recovered far quicker than anticipated, but will still miss the opening rounds of the Super 14. The Sharks are well served at tighthead, with two Bok props in Botha and Jannie du Plessis.

Muir, when his talented squad is at full strength, faces several awkward selections at three-quarter, but the versatility of such players as Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar (at scrumhalf or flyhalf but not fullback), Adrian Jacobs and Stefan Terblanche will provide him with any number of options.

Sharks revised Super 14 training squad

Backs

Ruan Pienaar, Rory Kockott, Charl Mcleod, Francois Steyn, Frederick Michalak, Bradley Barritt, Adrian Jacobs, Waylon Murray, Odwa Ndungane, Stefan Terblanche, Henno Mentz, Andries Strauss, Dumisani Matyeshana, Frank Wagenstroom, JP Pietersen.

Forwards

Ryan Kankowski, Jacques Botes, Keegan Daniel, Rudi Mathee, AJ Venter, Jean Deysel, Johann Muller, Albert van den Berg, Steven Sykes, Alistair Hargreaves, Nikolai Blignaut, Johan Snyman, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, Kees Lensing, Robbie Harris, BJ Botha, Deon Carstens, Patric Cilliers, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Skipper Badenhorst, Craig Burden.

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