Sharks brace up for last blow

2010-03-27 00:00

THE Sharks, with one foot in the departure lounge, and the Hurricanes, just out of the arrivals hall, clash in what should be a fiercely physical Super 14 game in Wellington today.

Both teams will be suffering today, the Sharks physically and mentally bruised after their five-week Cook’s tour of the Antipodes, and the Hurricanes battling to overcome travel fatigue after their unsuccessful threematch trip to South Africa.

The Sharks head for home tomorrow and, naturally, the prospects of sun, surf and sweethearts will be looming large. Keeping their focus today will be difficult, while the Hurricanes, who only arrived home in Wellington early on Tuesday morning, will be vulnerable, just as the jet-lagged Waratahs, Brumbies and Highlanders were against the Sharks.

The Sharks have been lifted by their first win of the season, a largely unconvincing showing against the Highlanders in Dunedin last Saturday. Most of their games this season, against better opposition, have been as close, but they finally had their win because they took a couple of scoring chances and the marginal refereeing decisions on this occasion fell in their favour.

Sharks head coach John Plumtree knows just how difficult it will be for his team to down a talented and committed Hurricanes outfit today. Plumtree and his backline assistant Chris Boyd are both former Wellington coaches and their knowledge of the Hurricanes and coach Colin Cooper will be to the Sharks’ advantage.

“The Hurricanes and their coach are a proud bunch, they will be desperate to win and they have a heck of a big front-row,” said Plumtree.

The Hurricanes, physical and with a strong defence, were only just pipped by the Bulls at Loftus last weekend. They had major problems dealing with the high ball and containing the Bulls’ rolling maul, and the Sharks will want to test them in those areas. But the Hurricanes’ defence, their physicality and strong support play was impressive as they surprised the Bulls on the night.

The key areas today will be the scrum and the midfield where the Sharks could struggle.

Plumtree, in attempting to cope with the heavy Hurricanes pack, has again opted to field John Smit in the unfamiliar loosehead role where, as a late replacement, he stood up strongly against the Highlanders. In the twilight of a long and distinguished career, Smit has frequently faced fresh challenges and he has another one today when he packs down opposite the 127 kg-All Black Test tighthead Neemia Tialata.

But it is the All Black pairing of the skilful Conrad Smith and the muscular Ma’a Nonu in midfield that is particularly threatening, and Sharks centres Riaan Swanepoel and Adi Jacobs are in for a bruising night.

The weather in windy Wellington will obviously have an important bearing on the game and Plumtree is clearly looking to the tactical boot of flyhalf Andy Goode to play a role. But, against a Hurricanes side crowded with counter-attacking runners and boosted by the return of Corey Jane at fullback, the kicking and the chase will have to be precise if it is to be effective.

The Sharks, against the Brumbies, the Waratahs and the Crusa­ders, if only for an hour, managed to make their highly-regarded opponents look decidedly ordinary and they will hope to pressure the Hurricanes pack and their halfbacks to break their attacking rhythm.

The Sharks have to win today to keep their flickering Super 14 challenge alive, but it will require a monumental effort at the end of a long tour. The Hurricanes may be tired after their tra­vels but, with a home crowd at their backs and desperate to break a run of defeats, they should have the edge in intensity which is often the difference between defeat and victory.

 

TEAMS

Sharks: 15. Patrick Lambie, 14. Stefan Terblanche, 13. Adrian Jacobs, 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 (capt). Replacements: 16. Tendai Mtawarira, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Rory Kockott, 21. Waylon Murray, 22. Odwa Ndungane.

Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Tamati Ellison, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Andre Taylor, 10Willie Ripia, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger. Replacememts: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 David Smith

Referee: Ian Smith (Australia). Kick-off: 8.35 am (SA time).

More Super 14: page 70

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