Ready for REDS

2010-04-03 00:00

THE Sharks have shown that they can do it on the road, but they now have to prove to their home crowd that they have indeed turned the Super 14 corner by beating the Queensland Reds at King’s Park this evening.

The Sharks’ season, dogged by a mixture of poor rugby and bad luck, was spiralling out of control with five successive defeats before their back-to-back victories in New Zealand brought massive relief to the players, the coaching staff and the supporters.

But tonight they will have to convince their sceptical home supporters that their successes of the past fortnight — with wins over the Highlanders and Hurricanes — were no false dawn.

It will not be easy. The Reds, well-drilled and astutely coached by Ewen McKenzie, are the most improved team in the competition, with four wins in six games, including one at home over the Crusaders, and they will test the Sharks across the field.

While the touring Sharks had to trek back from New Zealand at the weekend, the Reds have been waiting for them in Durban, and boosted by their easy Cheetahs win in Bloemfontein last Friday, they will be rested and sharper physically.

“Yeah, the boot is on the other foot,” said Sharks coach John Plumtree. “The challenge for us is to get up after the long trip overseas.”

In spite of their largely poor record in Super Rugby, the Reds have consistently brought out the worst in the Sharks and have won five of their last seven matches in Durban. They also started the Sharks’ slide last season with their 25-13 win in Brisbane.

The Sharks, lifted by their brace of New Zealand wins, still have a mountain to climb to reach the play-offs and they cannot afford to slip again.

“Every week is like a final for us,” said Plumtree and highlighted the importance of the Sharks’one-on-one tackles if they are to contain the Reds tonight.

The Reds’ success has been built on a resilient pack and their influential halfbacks, scrumhalf Will Genia and flyhalf Quade Cooper, and Plumtree will be looking to his forwards to place the pair under pressure.

The attacking play of Genia and Cooper, and their ability to offload passes in the tackle, will certainly keep the Sharks’ loose forwards honest, and there will have to be a dramatic improvement in the first line of defence, which leaked ominously against the Hurricanes, if the Reds are to be denied.

Genia, just 22, is a remarkable talent and Australian scrumhalf George Gregan was yesterday singing his praises.

“He’s got a lot more skills than me. He’s bigger, stronger and he can kick a lot further.”

Coach McKenzie agreed.

“He’s a complete player in terms of skill set and he will still improve.”

Flyhalf Cooper says his arrest for allegedly stealing laptops in the off-season has provided him with a wake-up call and his rugby has benefited. He also says the Reds are expecting a hostile reception at King’s Park.

“The Sharks are a good side back from a long, tough tour. We find two or three weeks here difficult, so five away from home must be something else. They’ll be looking forward to playing at home again.”

McKenzie is expecting a tough, bruising contest.

“The Sharks play a very physical brand of rugby and they look for opportunities in games to impose themselves.”

Both coaches are gambling at outside centre where Australian League convert Will Chambers makes his first start, while Stefan Terblanche, in his 100th Super game for the Sharks, has his first game in midfield. But it is the street fight up front that will be decisive.

The Sharks lost their first two Durban Super 14 games this season, but if they pick up where they left off at Wellington a week ago and tighten their defence, they will keep the home fans smiling.

SHARKS

15. Patrick Lambie, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Stefan Terblanche, 12. Riaan Swanepoel, 11. JP Pietersen, 10. Andy Goode, 9. Ruan Pienaar, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Alistair Hargreaves, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. John Smit (captain)

Replacements: 16. Craig Burden, 17. Tendai Mtawarira, 18. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Rory Kockott, 21. Andries Strauss, 22. Lwazi Mvovo

REFEREE: Chris Pollock (NZ).

REDS

15. Peter Hynes, 14. Luke Morahan, 13. Will Chambers, 12. Anthony Faingaa, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia (captain), 8. Jake Schatz, 7. Daniel Braid, 6. Scott Higginbotham, 5. Van Humphries, 4. Adam Byrnes, 3. Laurie Weeks, 2. Sean Hardman, 1. Ben Daley

Replacements: 16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Greg Holmes, 18. Jack Kennedy, 19. Rob Simmons, 20. Leroy Houston, 21. Ben Lucas, 22. Rod Davies.

KICKOFF: 17:05

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