Sharks retain bulk of champions, Fred and Brad aside

2008-10-27 00:00

ONLY two of the 22 Sharks players who were involved in the Currie Cup final at the weekend will not be back in Durban for the Super 14 next year.

French flyhalf Frédéric Michalak, who played a prominent role in the Sharks’ victory, is returning to his home town Toulouse after a year in Durban and 22-year-old centre Brad Barritt has also opted for a career overseas.

Michalak is regarded as something of a folk hero in his home country and attracted a French television crew to Durban to follow his progress in the final.

One of the more popular members of the squad, an emotional Michalak described his year in Durban with the Sharks as a “life-changing experience”.

Barritt, who came off the bench against the Blue Bulls late in the final, has signed for Saracens, but the burly centre could return to the Sharks if they have midfield injury problems during the Super 14.

Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl confirmed yesterday that the other 20 players involved on Saturday, in addition to a number of other fringe players in the squad, have already signed for the 2009 season.

Van Zyl said that head coach John Plumtree will be with the Sharks for at least another two years.

“He has signed until 2010 and we really are committed to keeping this group of players with him until then.”

Some of them, said Van Zyl, are already under contract for another two years (until the end of 2010).

The Sharks have already made two signings in experienced New Zealand backline coach Chris Boyd and a talented young flyhalf, the Falcons’ Len Olivier.

“Chris [Boyd] comes with an established pedigree, having worked with coach John Plumtree at the Wellington Lions,” said Van Zyl.

“He was largely instrumental in the mentoring, coaching and development of current All Blacks Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Cory Jane and Piri Weepu.

“He will add huge value to the Sharks.”

Olivier made an impression on the Sharks coaching staff earlier this year and after inspiring the Falcons to wins over Western Province and Griquas.

The 22-year-old, a former Affies flyhalf who played at U19 and U21 level for the Blue Bulls, subsequently met with Sharks coaches Plumtree and Grant Bashford in Durban.

“They particularly liked the way I attack the advantage line,” Olivier said, but added that the Sharks coaching staff want him to add five kilograms to his weight to enable him to knock opponents back in the tackle. The Sharks regard Olivier as a player for the future and have a two-year plan for him with action in the Currie Cup next year and then in the Super 14 in 2010.

Van Zyl said that the Sharks are looking at a couple of other options ahead of the Super 14.

The first priority for Plumtree is to replace Michalak at flyhalf.

The Springboks are, against the player’s wishes, switching Ruan Pienaar from scrumhalf to flyhalf for next month’s UK tour and that experiment will be closely monitored by the Sharks.

They could, of course, opt for Francois Steyn at flyhalf or look elsewhere for a high quality pivot.

The flutter that went through the Sharks camp when locks Johann Muller and Albert van den Berg went down with slight injuries late in the season might also persuade management to track down and contract a beefy, Johan Ackermann-type second-rower as cover for next year’s Super 14.

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