Sharks close to full strength as they prepare for opener

2011-02-10 00:00

THE Sharks are hoping to field close to their full-strength side in their Super Rugby opener against the Cheetahs at King’s Park on February 19.

Only two players — powerful flank Jean Deysel and lock Ross Skeate — have been ruled out of the opening weekend because of injury but assistant coach Grant Bashford told The Witness yesterday that all the other walking wounded are likely to be available for selection.

Deysel, recovering from knee ligament surgery, will probably join the Sharks on their overseas tour, which starts in the third round of the competition.

“He’s had a long lay-off so he’ll probably have a Vodacom Cup outing first before joining us,” said Bashford.

Skeate, nursing a broken finger, will be ready in a fortnight, he said.

But a major boost for the Sharks is the rapid recovery of Springbok lock Alistair Hargreaves, their chief source of line-out possession. The tall lock went down with a back injury in the Tri-series friendly against the Lions last week.

“We were really worried about him,” said Bashford.

“And when he was hospitalised overnight we thought it could be a season-ending injury.

“But thank goodness there was no structural damage and he should be ready for the Cheetahs game next weekend.”

Another to make a quick return is hooker Craig Burden, who left the field early in the Stormers game at the weekend with a damaged ankle.

“He went over on his ankle and it worried him at the time but he has been back at training this week.”

The Sharks will have an internal contact session against their Vodacom Cup side tomorrow.

“This will mainly involve players who were not heavily involved in the two games played in Cape Town,” said Bashford.

He said that the half-dozen early season injuries had been of benefit to the Sharks.

“It did allow us to give our fringe players an extended run which wouldn’t have happened otherwise and that will have helped them with their confidence.”

One who grabbed his chance in the absence of Hargreaves, Steve Sykes and Skeate was lock Anton Bressler, and head coach John Plumtree praised his efforts against the Stormers.

“We had an inkling that Bressler could come up with a performance like that and it was great to see he took that opportunity,” said Plumtree.

Plumtree said he had been able “to tick most of the boxes” in the Cape Town warm-up games.

“We are closer to where we need to be now. There are a few things we need to work on and that’s mainly to do with our attack.

“Some of the guys have forgotten what to do and some of our plays aren’t a habit for the newcomers. So we’re working really hard on just making sure everyone knows their roles,” he said.

The Sharks-Cheetahs game kicks off at 5.05 pm on February 19 and the game will be handled by New Zealander Steve Walsh.

Three South African referees — Mark Lawrence, Jonathan Kaplan and Marius Jonker — will feature in round one.

Lawrence will referee the historic Australian derby in Melbourne featuring the Rebels and the Waratahs tomorrow (10.40 am RSA time).

Kaplan will referee the game between the Brumbies and the Chiefs in Canberra on Saturday at 10.40 am.

Jonker takes charge of the traditional Jukskei derby in Johannesburg when the Lions host the defending champions, the Bulls. The clash starts at 7.10 pm.

In round two, Craig Joubert, who refereed last year’s Super Rugby final, is in charge in Bloemfontein where the Cheetahs play the Bulls while South African Jaco Peyper will handle the Sharks-Blues game at King’s Park.

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