Time for a win

2010-03-20 00:00

WINNING a Super 14 game in New Zealand is never a doddle, but this time history suggests the Sharks will break their duck and beat the Highlanders at Carisbrook today.

The disrupted Sharks have made the worst possible start to their campaign, and on the back of their opening two home defeats, they lost to the Crusaders, Waratahs and Brumbies on the road. Their past away record against these three sides has always been poor, but today it is different and they have reason to take on the Highlanders in positive mood.

The Sharks have won the last three times at Carisbrook — in 2008 (19-17), in 2006 (26-11) and in 2004 (36-35) — and they have the added advantage today of facing a travel-weary Highlanders outfit.

While the Sharks, after the Brumbies loss (24-22) in Canberra, had a short hop across the Tasman Sea last Sunday, the Highlanders only arrived home from Johannesburg on Tuesday. The Chiefs, the Waratahs and the Brumbies have all shown in recent weeks how debilitating that lengthy trip can be and the Sharks simply have to take advantage today.

Significantly, Highlanders coach Glenn Moore has a revamped line-up. Returning are All Black number eight Adam Thomson and inside centre Michael Hobbs, both suspended for the Bulls game last week, and injured scrumhalf and captain Jimmy Cowans. But he has also looked to add fresh legs to his tired starting line-up and has made nine changes in all.

The Highlanders’ style is to run and run, and the Sharks, if they are to win, will have to provide the pressure, kick accurately out of hand and make their tackles. The Highlanders’ ambitious approach brought them five tries against the Bulls at Loftus and that should serve as a warning to the Sharks, who have lost their ability to score tries while perfecting the art of losing close games.

“If you take the Crusaders game out of it, the four losses add up to a deficit of 12 points,” says Sharks captain John Smit. “That’s a penalty a game and that’s what is so frustrating — not one of those close games went our way.”

Coach John Plumtree is looking for a disciplined showing, particularly in the closing 10 minutes — when the Sharks have lost four of their five games — and greater accuracy on attack. He has Smit on the bench this time and the Bok captain should be on the field to guide the Sharks (and another rookie referee in New Zealander Jonathon White) through those final frenetic minutes.

The Sharks also have the opportunity to prove that they can still attack. The Highlanders conceded 83 points and 11 tries in the last two games in South Africa and they are clearly vulnerable against a well organised attack.

Teenage fullback Pat Lambie has his first Super 14 run for the Sharks today and will obviously be tested, but the Sharks’ internationals, spread evenly through the team, need to start performing.

Plumtree says the Sharks should also not rely on jet-lag bringing down the Highlanders.

“It’s always tough to travel back from South Africa, but the Highlanders are a courageous team. They beat the Cheetahs, which is something we struggled to do, and they will enjoy being back home. If we can hold on to that ball, build periods of attack and defend well, we can win. All the different factors that are letting us down need to be accurate on the day,” Plumtree added.

The Sharks’ coaching staff and their fidgety, frustrated followers will hope the players finally turn a corner at the House of Pain today. It is time these Sharks, high on profile but low on performance, gave us all something to cheer.

TEAMS

Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Kenny Lynn, 12 Michael Hobbs, 11 James Paterson, 10 Robbie Robinson, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 John Hardie, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.

Replacements: 16 Jason Macdonald, 17 Chris King, 18 Joe Tuineau, 19 Tim Boys/Steven Setephano, 20 Sean Romans, 21 Jayden Hayward, 22 Fetu’u Vainikolo

Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 Stefan Terblanche, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Johann Muller (c), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 John Smit, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Waylon Murray

Kick-off: 8.35 am. Referee: Jonathon White (NZ).

More Super 14, fixtures and standings, page 60

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