Sharks against the odds

2010-02-26 00:00

THE Sharks will have to defy the formbook and history if they are to prop up a tottering Super 14 season with victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch today.

The Crusaders have a remarkable home record — they have never lost to a South African team in Christ­church — and it will take a dramatic reversal of form after their long trip from South Africa for John Smit’s team to upset the seven-time Super champions.

The Sharks, untidy and lacking cohesion, intensity and spark, lost their first two home games to the Chiefs and the Cheetahs and they did little on those successive weekends in Durban to suggest that they can break their long sequence of defeats in Christ­church.

They cannot even bank on catching the Crusaders cold today by exploiting any complacency. Todd Blackadder’s team were beaten by a record margin by the Reds in Brisbane last weekend and all week they have spoken about setting the record straight against the Sharks, even rushing back All Black captain Richie McCaw from his sabbatical to provide further insurance off the bench.

The Sharks, at the start of a long, five-match haul against the strongest of the overseas Super 14 teams, desperately need to lift their mood and confidence with a powerful showing today. They traditionally travel well, last year winning three of their four away games, and coach John Plumtree believes that the players will benefit from being able to work on their problems away from the pressures of home.

They had excellent chances to win their first two games, but they clearly lacked the necessary finish on attack and they are not exploiting the new-look laws by playing high-tempo rugby.

The laws, as Plumtree has emphasised, favour the team keeping the ball in hand, whether on the counter-attack or in recycling possession from the breakdown. But the Sharks, hesitant and sloppy in their skills, are not reaping the rewards on attack.

Part of the problem has been a lack of ambition, but they will also be looking to scrumhalf Rory Kockott to clear the rucks swiftly and cleanly to allow his backs to run at disrupted defences.

The well-coached Crusaders, with the influential, sublime Dan Carter at flyhalf, are an astute and streetwise outfit and they play the percentages exceptionally well. The Sharks, if they are to stay in the contest, will need to place their forwards under some pressure to disrupt their flow, just as the Reds did in Brisbane a week ago.

Certainly the Sharks have the pack to create problems if they can lift their level of intensity. They will field an all-Bok front-row with John Smit back at tighthead, Johann Muller is back to boost the second row and Plumtree is looking to the 120 kg loose forward Willem Alberts to provide the momentum.

But the Sharks’ problems have lbeen an inability to translate territory and possession into points and they are looking to flyhalf Ruan Pienaar to finally spark a strong, slick showing by their backs.

We can expect the fired-up, physical Sharks to improve and worry the Crusaders for long periods. But history suggest that that the Crusaders will persevere — as they always have in the past — with Carter again the match-winner.

TEAMS

Crusaders

15 Jared Payne, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 George Whitelock, 6 Kieran Read (c), 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Ti’i Paulo, 1 Wyatt Crockett.

Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Joe Wheeler, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Kahn Fotuali’i, 21 Adam Whitelock, 22 Colin Slade.

Sharks

15. Stefan Terblanche, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Waylon Murray, 12. Adrian Jacobs, 11. JP Pietersen, 10. Ruan Pienaar, 9. Rory Kockott, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Johaan Muller, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. John Smit (c), 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira.

Subs: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18. Wilhelm Steenkamp , 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21. Andy Goode, 22. Riaan Swanepoel.

Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)

FIXTURES: Today: Crusaders v Sharks (Christchurch, 8.35 am – live on M-Net, SuperSport on HD and SuperSport 1), Stormers v Brumbies (Newlands, 7.10 pm – live on M-Net, M-Net HD and SuperSport 1) Tomorrow: Hurricanes v Lions (Wellington, 8.35 am), Reds v Blues (Brisbane, 10.40 am), Western Force v Chiefs (Perth 1.05 pm), Cheetahs v Highlanders (Free State Stadium, 5.05 pm), Bulls v Waratahs (Loftus, 7.10 pm)

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