Sharks against history

2008-04-19 00:00

The Super 14 door has been flung open, but the Sharks will be wary of the Brumbies in today’s Super 14 clash in Canberra.

The Chiefs’ upset win over the log-leading Crusaders yesterday has narrowed the gap at the top of the log, but the second-placed Sharks do not have an enviable record in Canberra.

Despite the poor record that has seen them win only once here in the history of Super Rugby, it is the Sharks who are chasing a home semi-final, while the Brumbies are under pressure to make the play-offs, with coach Laurie Fisher sacked because of his failure to take his side into a top four finish during his reign with Australia’s most successful side.

It has been 10 lean years for the Sharks since they last tasted victory in Canberra, but given their form this season (and that of the Brumbies), the local bookies have installed the Sharks as favourites.

With the Sharks having left rainy Sydney behind them for sunshine in the nation’s capital — conditions designed to suit their style of play — they also enjoyed good news on the injury front as both captain Johann Muller and flank Keegan Daniel have been given a clean bill of health.

In contrast, the Brumbies, in ninth spot and 11 points adrift of the second-placed Sharks, have lost their inspirational captain, goal-kicker and major role-player Stirling Mortlock to concussion. This was followed by further bad news: Mortlock’s replacement, Adam Ashley-Cooper, was pulled up in training with a back spasm — he is almost certainly out as well.

While the effects of these two disruptions on preparations and the game itself will only be known later today, it can hardly be of much benefit to a side that have lost a number of first-choice midfield players, including former SA U21 captain Clyde Rathbone, who is out for the rest of the season.

Midway through the Sharks’ tour, the team are in high spirits despite one tough assignment after another.

Sharks coach Dick Muir says they have had a good week’s training, and that "we’ve got through an enormous amount of work and the guys are enthusiastic … It’s also critical that we take it game by game because the log is starting to get a bit cluttered around us and we need to keep our form up without losing focus on the task at hand".

Teams:

Sharks: Stefan Terblanche; Odwa Ndungane, Francois Steyn, Bradley Barritt, JP

Pietersen; Frederic Michalak, Rory Kockott; Ryan Kankowski; Jacques Botes, Keegan

Daniel, Johann Muller (captain), Steven Sykes, BJ Botha, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai

Mtawarira. Replacements: Craig Burden, Deon Carstens, Albert van den Berg, AJ

Venter, Ruan Pienaar, Waylon Murray, Adrian Jacobs.

Brumbies: Mark Gerrard, Peter Playford, A.N Other, Tyrone Smith, Francis Fainifo,

Christian Lealiifano, Patric Phibbs; Julian Salvi, George Smith (capt), Mitchell Chapman,

Mark Chishom, Alister Campbell, Guy Sheperdson, Saia Faingaa, Nic Henderson.

Reserves: John Alugua, Sales Ma’afu, Peter Kimlin, Stephen Hoiles, Josh Holmes, Matt

Toomua, Sanualio Afeaki, Ben Alexander (one to be omitted).

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ). Kick-off: 11.40 am. TV coverage: M-Net, SS1.

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