SA challenge in the heart of Oz

2012-03-31 00:00

THE opposition will be Australian but the challenge South African when the Sharks take on the buoyant Brumbies in their Super Rugby outing in Canberra today.

The teams are approaching this game from opposite directions. The Brumbies have their heads high after downing the Highlanders to go top of the Australian conference a week back; the disappointed Sharks are still wondering how they allowed the Waratahs to mug them late in the game in Sydney.

The rookie Brumbies, at the bidding of former Springbok coach Jake White, have been Australia’s surprise in Super Rugby and the Sharks will have to douse their enthusiasm, nullify them at the breakdown and blunt their sharp attacking edge to stay in the contest.

Sharks coach John Plumtree said this week that there is a distinct South African flavour to the rugby being played by the Brumbies.

“The South African influence is coming through from Jake,” he said. “They make use of the driving lineouts, their rugby is very direct and they’re aggressive on defence.”

The Brumbies, with two of their most famous players in George Gregan and Steve Larkham on the coaching staff, are bent on again transforming their stadium into a fortress. Indeed, their record against South African teams in Canberra is remarkable.

It was 13 years ago that the Sharks became the first South African side to beat the Brumbies in Canberra and it has only happened three times since. They boast the best home record (at nearly 90%) of all the Australian sides against South African opposition with 34 wins out of 38 games played.

The Brumbies are very much the no-name brand of Australian rugby with a host of emerging young players, but their balanced approach, their accuracy and the superb work of Michael Hooper at the breakdown, will test the Sharks across the park.

The Sharks looked the part for long periods against the Waratahs and they created attacking opportunities out wide. But it will not be as easy against the Brumbies, who have laid a heavy emphasis on defence, while the Sharks will miss the smooth distributing skills of the injured Pat Lambie at flyhalf and discarded inside centre Meyer Bosman.

Plumtree has loaded his bench with five forwards and he will be looking to his replacements to make a genuine impact in the closing quarter, in contrast to last week when his players, perhaps because of the long trip to Sydney, dozed off in the critical final stages.

The Sharks will also be hoping that New Zealand referee Keith Brown, who blew the Cheetahs to distraction — and defeat — with a series of late scrummaging penalties in their match against the Brumbies a couple of weeks back, will not be as influential today.

Plumtree has remained in a positive mood.

“We know what a massive challenge it is but if we can force our game on them, if we can be more clinical at kick-offs, play all the basics of our game really well, then we’re a good enough side to win,” he said.

The Sharks, to beat a proud team playing in front of their confident home supporters, will have to keep performing for 80 minutes.

But, if they are to triumph, they will need to confront their attackers on the gainline rather than sitting back on their heels and waiting for the runners to come to them.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Freddie Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Jandre Marais, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Dale Chadwick.

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Louis Ludik.

Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Leon Power, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ruadhri Murphy.

Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Scott Fardy, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Nic White, 21 Zack Holmes, 22 Joe Tomane.

Kick-off: 10.40 am tomorrow (SA time).

Today’s fixtures (home team first, SA times):

6.30 am Hurricanes vs Cheetahs; 8.35 am Chiefs vs Waratahs; 10.40 am Brumbies vs Sharks; 12.40 pm Force vs Reds; 5.05 pm Lions vs Crusaders; 7.10 pm Stormers vs Bulls

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