Sharks psych for home semi-final

2008-04-30 00:00

Sharks coach Dick Muir is still waiting on the fitness of his captain Johann Muller ahead of tomorrow’s Super 14 outing against the log-leading Crusaders at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

Muller has been bracketed alongside AJ Venter at lock and will undergo a late call at the captain’s practice today. Should he be withdrawn, Venter will play at lock instead of flank, and Jean Deysel will play at flank.

Unfortunately, Bradley Barritt (bruised shoulder) and hooker Bismarck du Plessis (bruised sternum) have been ruled out of the match.

With the loss of Frederic Michalak, Ruan Pienaar will deputise at flyhalf with Francois Steyn filling in for Barritt at inside centre, while Craig Burden replaces Du Plessis at wing.

"Bismarck was going to need a break at some stage. He’s pretty much started all the games. With a push we could have played him but we’re being cautious," said Sharks coach Dick Muir yesterday.

"Craig Burden’s probably one the most professional players in the squad. He’s taken to the change [from wing/centre to hooker] like a duck to water, and he’s had the support of everyone. Guys like BJ Botha, Deon Carstens and Balie Swart have all helped.

"He has a massive work-rate, he has a lot of the attributes of Bismarck, he just lacks Bismarck’s experience.

"The only way you get experience is by playing, by being thrown in the deep-end, and this is his opportunity. He did well when he came on for 60 minutes against the Lions."

With a home semi-final still in their sights, the Sharks are well aware that having slipped up in the past two matches, they must end the tour on a high.

"We’re wanting a home semi-final and we don’t want to leave our destiny in someone else’s hands like we did two years ago. Our pride has been dented and the players want to redeem themselves," says Muir.

The theme at training this week has been respect, said Muir — "respect towards possession of the ball and respect to the jersey".

The match — a night game in New Zealand — kicks off at 9.35 am (SA time) tomorrow.

Teams

Sharks: 15. Stefan Terblanche, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Waylon Murray, 12. Francois Steyn, 11. JP Pietersen 10. Ruan Pienaar, 9. Rory Kockott, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. AJ Venter/Jean Deysel, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Johann Muller (capt)/AJ Venter, 4. Albert van den Burg, 3. BJ Botha, 2. Craig Burden, 1. Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16. Skipper Badenhorst, 17. Jannie du Plessis, 18. Jean Deysel/Alistair Hargreaves, 19. Keegan Daniel, 20. Andries Strauss, 21. Henno Mentz, 22. Adrian Jacobs.

The Crusaders have named centre Casey Laulala to start against the Sharks.

Laulala is back after he was concussed against the Chiefs which ultimately ruled him out of last week’s 26-22 win over the Blues.

Nasi Manu makes the first start of his Super 14 career as replacement for the in-form No 8 Mose Tuiali’i. Manu’s inclusion means that the Crusaders will field three members of this year’s New Zealand U20 squad for the world tournament in June. The others are wingers Kade Poki and Sean Maitland.

Crusaders: Leon MacDonald, Kade Poki, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Sean Maitland, Stephen Brett, Andrew Ellis, Nasi Manu, Richie McCaw (capt.), Kieran Read, Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, Greg Somerville, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks. Replacements: Ti’i Paulo, Wyatt Crockett, Ross Filipo, George Whitelock, Kahn Fotuali’i, Hamish Gard, Caleb Ralph.

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