Sharks: Last chance for players to secure spots ahead of Loftus opener

2012-02-17 00:00

SCRUMHALF and the midfield and lock pairings will be the positions under the spotlight when the Sharks take on the Southern Kings in their final Super Rugby warn-up game in Port Elizabeth this evening.

The Sharks are just a week away from the serious business, the Super Rugby opener against the Bulls at Loftus, and a couple of players have a final opportunity tonight to force themselves into the starting line-up for Pretoria.

The one-match suspension handed down to Frenchman Frederic Michalak has thrown scrumhalf Charl Mcleod a late lifeline.

McLeod was the obvious favourite for the scrumhalf position ahead of the season, but the sublime form shown by Michalak against Boland a week back suddenly transformed the Frenchman into the likely No 9 for Loftus.

Michalak’s belated one-match suspension on Tuesday for a late tackle back in the Currie Cup final last year has opened the door to Mcleod and he will be desperate to make an impression tonight.

Similarly, the switch of Springbok JP Pietersen from wing to centre has increased the midfield competition and he, Western Province signing Tim Whitehead and Meyer Bosman are squabbling over two positions.

Former Griqua fullback Riaan Viljoen, Lwazi Mvovo and Odwa Ndunage seem certain to be the back three against the Bulls.

The injury to lock Alistair Hargreaves has left Steven Sykes, Anton Bresler (the two starting locks tonight) and Ross Skeate battling for the second-row berths.

Marcell Coetzee, in the absence of the injured Willem Alberts and Jean Deysel, seems certain to join captain Keegan Daniel (on the bench tonight) and Ryan Kankowski in the backrow in Pretoria while Dale Chadwick, the young loosehead replacement for Beast Mtawarira, and the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, will complete the front-row.

Plumtree said yesterday that he was hoping that the Kings would provide stiffer and more physical opposition than Boland did a week ago when they went down 62-0 to the Sharks. He was also looking for the Sharks to show the same slickness but under increased pressure.

“We had just three scrums against Boland which shows we were accurate.”

He is delighted with the players’ fitness — “I’m not sure we could have done much more in that department,” he added.

Plumtree said that the referees were hammering players at the breakdown and the Sharks were trying to avoid going to ground on attack.

“We are looking for continuity and off-loading in the tackle, but it can be dangerous if those passes don’t go to hand.”

Cutting the squad back from 28 to 24 had been difficult, he said.

“The guys haven’t let themselves down. We are just looking at the best combinations for the Bulls game. But that can change and we’ll see how it goes after this game.”

Darron Nell, in the absence of the injured Luke Watson, will again captain the Southern Kings.

Team-mates Tiger Mangweni, Falie Oelschig, Clint Newland, Hannes Franklin and Jaco Engels have all seen action in Super Rugby while former Lions and Stormers flyhalf Earl Rose is on the bench.

“There were no EP players involved on Tuesday [when the Kings lost 88-0 to the Lions] and this is a stronger Kings team,” said the Sharks coach. “We hope they will go for 80 minutes and give us a really good test.”

And, if the Sharks can pick up where they left off against Boland while steering clear of any injuries, then Plumtree and his coaching staff will be delighted with the pre-season preparation.

 

TEAMS

Sharks: 15. Riaan Viljoen 14. Odwa Ndungane 13. JP Pietersen 12. Tim Whitehead 11. Lwazi Mvovo 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod 8. Ryan Kankowski 7. Lubabalo Mtembu 6. Marcell Coetzee 5. Anton Bresler 4. Steven Sykes 3. Jannie du Plessis 2. Bismarck du Plessis (captain) 1. Dale Chadwick

Replacements: 16. Craig Burden 17. Julian Redelinghuys 18. Wiehahn Herbst 19. Pieter-Steph du Toit 20. Ross Skeate 21. Keegan Daniel 22. Cobus Reinach 23. Meyer Bosman 24. Paul Jordaan.

Kings:

15. Tiger Mangweni 14 . Norman Nelson 13. Dwayne Jenner 12. Wayne Stevens 11. Marcello Sampson 10. Shane Gates 9. Falie Oelschig 8. Jacques Engelbrecht7. Mpho Mbiyozo6. Boetie Brits 5. David Bulbring 4. Darron Nell (captain) 3. Clint Newland 2. Hannes Franklin 1. Jaco Engels.

Replacements: 16. Bobby Dyer 17. Zane Killian 18. Andre Schletcher19. Wayne van Heerden 20. Reynier Bernado 21. Thembelani Bholi 22. Siya Mangaliso 23. Danie Faasen 24. Earl Rose 25. Matthew Tayler-Smith 26. Kieran Goss.

Kick-off: 7 pm

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