Testing times

2009-04-03 00:00

They will come in their thousands, expecting another win and planning their celebrations, but the Sharks will have to be close to their very best if they are to overcome a talented, All Black-flavoured Hurricanes side in the Super 14 game at King’s Park this evening.

Critics around the country appear to be taking a Sharks win for granted but the coaching staff in Durban have made it clear they are not.

Head coach John Plumtree and his assistant, New Zealander Chris Boyd, have strong ties to the Hurricanes and both have said that the Sharks face a monumental challenge this evening.

Boyd said this game is “the Hurricanes’ Test match this season and it will be the most difficult home game of the season for the Sharks”.

And Plumtree said yesterday that it is “naive to think that just because we are playing in front of our crowd we will win.”

“We know inside the squad how tough this will be. Our preparations have been disrupted by injury [JP Pietersen was withdrawn yesterday] and we are up against talented players who turned over the Crusaders a couple of weeks ago.”

The Hurricanes, who are punted widely by New Zealanders as their pre-season favourites for the Super 14 title, will test the Sharks in every area but they have concentrated their preparations, and selection, on beefing up an already formidable pack.

Coach Colin Cooper has included two hefty All Blacks, hooker Andrew Hore and prop Neemia Tialata, who both missed the Lions match last week because of light injuries, and named a full front-row on the bench.

“Hore and Tialata bring that experience factor and they bring confidence to the pack,” he said.

“I’ve got that five-two split on the bench because we’re expecting it to be a very tough, physical game. The Sharks play a strong set-piece game and a strong kicking game with a good chase.”

The Hurricanes are at their most dangerous in running from broken play and the Sharks will not only have to be accurate in controlling possession but also in their kicking game.

“We know the Hurricanes will make line-breaks, that is inevitable, but we have worked on improving our scrambling defence,” said Plumtree.

“We have faced similar sides, like the Chiefs and the Reds, and we know what to expect but we will have to be really up for this game to win.”

The Sharks, on song, are arguably the best-balanced side in the competition and, if they can maintain momentum, play their own game and make their first-time tackles, will win.

There is no doubt that the loss of their most physical forward (Jean Deysel), their chief playmaker (Ruan Pienaar) and now their most effective attacker (Pietersen) has hurt them and victory or defeat will depend on their success in covering the cracks.

The Sharks certainly need a strong showing from their pack to pressure the Hurricanes and prevent them from playing their attacking game off the frontfoot. They have an all-Bok front-row in Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and John Smit, and they will hope to challenge the Hurricanes lineout.

Their loose forwards — Jacques Botes Keegan Daniel, Ryan Kankowski — did exceptionally well against the highly-rated Brumbies a week ago but they will have to perform again tonight against All Black Rodney So’oialo and company.

But the Sharks also need flyhalf Francois Steyn to step up, channel his remarkable talents and control the flow of the game for the team rather than trying to make his point as an individual.

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