Sharks face testing selection problems

2012-07-18 00:00

THE Reds are still considering appealing against Quade Cooper’s one-match ban which will keep him out of Saturday’s play-off against the Sharks in Brisbane.

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie said he would be happy to replace Wallaby playmaker Cooper with Ben Lucas, but he was still waiting for the written judgment on the suspension before deciding whether to appeal.

McKenzie said yesterday: “We will look at the reasons and then go forward, but meanwhile we have to get on with our preparation for the Sharks.”

“I am not worried [about using Lucas]. Hopefully he rises to the occasion. He has done it before for us.”

The Sharks were delayed by four hours by flight problems before reaching Brisbane on Monday, but they are relaxed and excited, coach John Plumtree said yesterday.

“Obviously, with Cooper out, the Reds’ attacking plan changes a bit, but our approach isn’t about what the Reds are doing, but rather on our own game.”

Plumtree faces a couple of testing selection problems.

In-form Louis Ludik will take over from Pat Lambie at fullback and Meyer Bosman is likely to return at inside centre for the unavailable Frans Steyn.

Fit-again Steven Sykes could replace Pieter-Steph Du Toit at lock, but Plumtree is spoilt for choice in the backrow where he has to squeeze the formidable Willem Alberts in somewhere.

Number eight Ryan Kankowski has shown excellent recent form, but he could well drop to the bench with captain Keegan Daniel at number eight and flanks Alberts and Marcell Coetzee completing the backrow.

The match kicks off at 11.40 am on Saturday.

If the Sharks manage to defy history, and win a rare play-off game on the road, they will then face the Stormers in the second semi-final in Cape Town a week later.

Sanzar yesterday announced the dates and times for the semi-finals. The Stormers, South African conference winners and top-of-the-table finishers, will host the lowest ranked winner from this weekend’s play-off matches.

And, if the sixth-placed Sharks advance in Brisbane, it will be them. But, if the Sharks lose, then the Stormers will take on either the fourth-placed Crusaders or, if there is a major upset in Christchurch, the Bulls who ended fifth.

The Reds (third) would then travel to play the second-placed Chiefs in the first semi-final in Hamilton next Friday. The bookies are tipping a Stormers-Crusaders semi-final in Cape Town with the Chiefs hosting the Reds a day earlier.

The two top teams on the log — the Stormers and the Chiefs — have this weekend off.

SUPER RUGBY SEMI-FINALS

Semi-final 1:

Chiefs v highest ranked advancing qualifier. Friday, July 27, Hamilton (9.35 am SA time)

Semi-final 2:

Stormers v lowest ranked qualifier: Saturday, July 28, Newlands, 5.05 pm

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