White throws the dice

2014-01-25 00:00

JAKE White is looking to win on both the swings and the roundabouts when the Sharks see action for the first time this year at Allianz Park in London where they will face a formidable Saracens outfit late this afternoon.

White’s dilemma is that he wants his Sharks exposed to tough, testing opposition as they prepare for their Super Rugby opener against the Bulls in Durban on February 15. But this ridiculously early introduction to the season — a winter sport starting in January — does come with the risk of injury as the Sharks face battle-hardened opposition, and this is one of White’s major concerns.

(It was in the corresponding game last year — against the Leopards at Woodburn Stadium — that Sharks coach John Plumtree lost first-choice centre Tim Whitehead and captain Keegan Daniel to serious injuries and they joined Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts on the sidelines).

“The most important thing about that game is that we get through it injury-free,” says White of the Saracens game.

The Sharks coach is also concerned that expectations could be too high.

“I hope people would appreciate that Saracens, the Premiership leaders, are in the middle of their season, while this is the first hit-out for us. We haven’t had any contact situations of a fully-fledged fixture.”

But White believes that Saracens will provide his players with just the type of opposition they need ahead of the Bulls contest.

“This game mimics a little bit of what we can expect from the Bulls. Saracens play a little bit like the Bulls. They have a big pack of forwards, their set-piece is strong, they kick a lot. It gives me and the coaching staff an opportunity to see the things we want to do against the Bulls.”

White said he would be playing his cards close to his chest because the game is being televised.

“But there will be a lot of analy­sis of the game.”

There will also be a number of fascinating duels across the artificial turf at Allianz Park with the contests at lock and in midfield of particular interest.

The lineout battle will be between the Sharks’ two 21-year-old locks, Springbok Pieter-Steph du Toit and new signing Etienne Oosthuizen, and Saracens’ experienced England Test second-rowers in veteran Steve Borthwick and Mouritz Botha.

White will also be hoping that his young backs stand up to the challenge.

Tim Swiel, imported from Cape Town, has been preferred to Fred Zeilinga as Pat Lambie’s understudy at flyhalf today, and he faces a tough baptism. Swiel will be up against the most prolific points-scorer in the English Premiership in the 33-year-old Charlie Hodgson, an experienced Test flyhalf who has Springbok scrumhalf Neil de Kock partnering him at halfback.

Hodgson said he was excited about playing against a leading South African team for the first time in a 14-year career.

“It might seem unusual to be playing a match like this in the middle of our season, but we [Saracens] are a club constantly challenging conventions and there is a real buzz around the training ground. The Sharks are one of the top teams in Super Rugby and we’ll have to be at our best to compete against a team with all their Springboks.”

The Sharks have two other 20-somethings in fullback Tyler Fisher and inside centre Andre Esterhuizen and these two youngsters will also be looking to play their way into White’s Super Rugby match squad for the Bulls game.

The Sharks pack contains most of the familiar names with five current Boks and an all-Test front-row. There are also five South Africans among the Saracens forwards and the two sets of forwards appear well matched.

And watching the outcome with more than passing interest will be Brendan Venter, who was in charge of the Sharks less than three months ago when they won the Currie Cup and is still Saracens’ technical director.

The Saracens, who have been in excellent form this English winter and have all the momentum, should prevail against the underdone Sharks. But White will think that the long trek north was worth the effort if the Sharks are competitive, his young talent stand tall and there are no serious injuries.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15. Tyler Fisher, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Tim Swiel, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Willem Alberts, 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Tera Mtembu, 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1. Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Stephan Lewies, 20. Jacques Botes, 21. Charl McLeod, 22. Heimar Williams, 23. Jaco van Tonder.

Saracens: 15. Chris Wyles; 14. James Short, 13. Michael Tagicakibau, 12. Marcelo Bosch, 11. David Strettle; 10. Charlie Hodgson, 9. Neil de Kock; 1. Richard Barrington, 2. Schalk Brits, 3. Matt Stevens, 4. Steve Borthwick (c), 5. Mouritz Botha, 6. Justin Melck, 7. Jacques Burger, 8. Ernst Joubert.

Replacements: 16. Scott Spurling, 17. Nick Auterac, 18. Petrus Du Plessis, 19. Tom Jubb, 20. Takashi Kikutani, 21. Richard Wigglesworth, 22. Duncan Taylor, 23. Sam Stanley.

Kick-off: 4.30 pm (SA time). TV coverage: CSN, SS1 and SSHD.

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