‘We just have to dig in’

2013-04-27 00:00

THE Sharks, overstretched, overanxious and over there, are expected to provide easy pickings for the Chiefs, the Super Rugby champions, in Hamilton today.

Rugby logic suggests that the Sharks are in for another painful beating and the only faint silver lining for their supporters back home is that the agony will be over good and early today (kick-off starts at 9.35 am), leaving the rest of the weekend free for more relaxing pursuits.

Injuries, patchy form, a slew of changes and travel fatigue have left the Sharks looking decidedly vulnerable as they return to the Waikato Stadium to take on the Chiefs in a repeat of last year’s final.

Coach John Plumtree, in explaining his many changes, says his selections were limited by injury, but he was also determined to freshen up the team at the start of the four-match tour. In making 10 changes, he has omitted most of the players who have been heavily involved this year.

But there is no doubt that Plumtree is also aiming to keep his powder dry, targeting the remaining games against the last-placed Highlanders next Saturday, and then the Reds and Force across in Australia.

Not only will the squad be fresher and over their jet lag next week, but they expect to have JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo, loosehead specialist JC Janse van Rensburg and, possibly, Willem Alberts up and running.

While everyone is anticipating another Sharks defeat, Plumtree will have a plan.

If his makeshift outfit can somehow contain the Chiefs for the opening hour, and stay in the contest, then the Sharks coach has a quality bench and his first-choice players among the replacements could make a difference in the final quarter.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, who has also selected a much-changed team, does not regard the Sharks as cannon fodder.

“They’ll be a real handful. They’ve got some real quality players and a lot of guys who have worn the Springbok jersey. They’re big men and physical,’’ Rennie said.

“The fact there’s a couple of well-known players missing counts for little really, because they have got good depth.”

The Sharks’ problem is that they also lack consistency and cohesion, particularly on attack, and it will be even more difficult today as they take the field with a disrupted team of new, untried combinations with a number of players in unfamiliar positions.

The most telling could be at loosehead prop where Wiehahn Herbst, a specialist tighthead, will be given a long and bumpy ride, as he tries to hold up the Sharks scrum.

The anxious Sharks, perhaps because they have been trying too hard and have lacked accuracy, have week in and out failed as an attacking unit, and Plumtree has urged them to play with greater freedom today.

Flyhalf Pat Lambie said the Sharks had the opportunity to score a massive upset.

“No one really expects us to win. We obviously want to get our attack going, but we have to put in a solid 80-minute performance.

“It’s going to take a huge defensive effort and some adventurous and exciting attacking movements to score some tries.”

The Chiefs, like the Sharks, will also be determined to convince their supporters and their grumpy coach that the worst is behind them.

Rennie has changed nine players since his team lost to the Waratahs last week and he echoed Plumtree’s sentiments — after the Sharks’ two successive losses — when he described his Chiefs team as woeful and questioned their attitude.

Few will expect the Sharks, who have failed to score a try in five of their eight Super games — and lost to the Cheetahs at home just a week ago — to suddenly burst into life, find their attacking rhythm and beat the potent 2012 champions on their home paddock. At best, all we can realistically anticipate is a spirited showing and signs that the old attacking mojo is returning, and, perhaps, a bonus point.

“We just have to dig in and do our best,” Plumtree said.

Sharks supporters, with every reason, will this morning be hoping for good news, but preparing for the worst.

TEAMS

Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Richard Kahui, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Nick Crosswell, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain),

3 Michael Kainga, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Toby Smith.

Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna,

18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard,

21 Bundee Aki, 22 Charlie Ngatai.

Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Francois Steyn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Piet Lindeque, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jean Deysel (captain), 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler,

3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Wiehahn Herbst

Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Franco van der Merwe, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21

Cobus Reinach, 22 S’bura Sithole. Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ).

This weekend’s fixtures (home team first, SA times)

Today: Chiefs vs Sharks — 9.35 am, Brumbies vs Force — 11.40 am, Bulls vs Waratahs — 5.05 pm, Cheetahs vs Kings —

7.10 pm.

Tomorrow: Crusaders vs Rebels — 5,05 am Bye: Highlanders

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