Plumtree faces tough choices for a testing game against Waratahs

2010-03-02 00:00

SHARKS head coach John Plumtree has to make a number of massive calls in selecting his team to take on the Waratahs in the Super 14 game in Sydney on Saturday.

The Sharks, on the back of three successive defeats and with a squad crowded with internationals, are lurking close to the foot of the log and they are in desperate need of a win.

But a well-equipped, astutely coached Waratahs outfit, lifted by an excellent display in running the Bulls close at Loftus at the weekend and back in Sydney for their first home game of the competition, will provide another searching test for the Sharks.

There are certain to be changes to the Sharks line-up with the composition of the front-row and the halfback pairing under the spotlight.

Questions continue to be asked of the Sharks scrum and it will come as no surprise to find Smit shifted away from tighthead again.

There have been occasions this season, notably against the highly-regarded Cheetahs front-row, when Smit and the Sharks scrum have stood up resolutely. But in the second half against the Crusaders, the Sharks pack was on the retreat and the Waratahs, with the Wallaby starting front row of hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and props Benn Robinson and Al Baxter, who have 123 Test caps between them, will be even more of a challenge.

Loosehead Robinson is a particular threat. He had much the better of Smit last year, both at Super 14 and Test level, and the Sharks captain openly admits that Robinson is the most difficult loosehead he has faced on the world stage.

Plumtree could switch Smit back to hooker, where he is certainly more at home, but that would result in Bismarck du Plessis, the Sharks most effective forward against the Crusaders, returning to the bench.

There are also a number of respected observers who believe that the battered Smit needs a break, but it is unlikely that Plumtree will rest his captain at this critical stage of the season and particularly as Benn Robinson is in the opposite corner.

Waratahs coach Chris Hickey expects Smit to start at hooker for what he sees as a critical battle up front.

“Hooker is where Smit has played most of his international rugby. That is his preferred position,” said Hickey. “When you are comfortable and in the best position you play, it will probably allow him to give more thought to his leadership role. Having him at hooker only further strengthens the whole team and not just the front row.’’

Plumtree has another difficult choice at flyhalf. He is keen to shift Ruan Pienaar from flyhalf back to his favoured position at scrumhalf, but this would mean rushing England flyhalf Andy Goode into a new team environment after only a week with the squad.

Certainly Pienaar would be happier at the base of the scrum, but there are concerns that Goode, weaned on northern hemisphere rugby where the flyhalf runs from deep, would take time to settle into the Sharks’ playing style.

Current scrumhalf Rory Kock­ott, who also emerged from the Crusaders’ defeat with some credit, is the team’s first-choice goalkicker, but Goode is a prolific points-scorer.

Other changes would be more straightforward. Riaan Swanepoel could be back at 12 with Adi Jacobs moving back to his old position at outsidecentre in place of Waylon Murray, while flank Jean Deysel could return for Willem Alberts.

It is also possible that Bulls lock Wilhelm Steenkamp could be given a start ahead of Steven Sykes in the second-row.

Plumtree said that the scrum was an area of concern. “We scrummed well at times against Crusaders and not others and we’ll work on that.”

He said the group have to turn the criticism they were taking into a positive, “but it is not easy when you are not playing with a lot of confidence”.

“We need to find some recipes to rectify that. We are trying, we really are, but over the next week we need to find some mongrel in us, we need to get really physical. We can’t get despondent.”

Bismarck du Plessis damaged his thumb against the Crusaders and that may help Plumtree in his selection dilemma, while an injury cloud hangs over Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota Nau, who picked up a groin strain against the Bulls.

Loose forward Dean Mumm will return from suspension to face the Sharks.

The match kicks off at 10.40 am (SA time) on Saturday, with Australian referee Paul Marks handling the game.

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