Wobbly start for Sharks

2010-02-13 00:00

IF order does indeed come out of chaos, then the Sharks have had just about the perfect build-up to their Super 14 opener against the Chiefs at King’s Park tonight.

Dismayed Sharks head coach John Plumtree, through no fault of his own, has found his best-laid plans going horribly awry as he has prepared for the unforgiving Super 14 and a dreadful draw.

The late return to training of his over-exploited Springboks, the ongoing contractual squabble with the Lions over Willem Alberts and Louis Ludik, the loss of a genuine world-class flyhalf in Argentinian Juan Hernandez a month ago and now the sudden and extraordinary retirement of his replacement, young Steve Meyer, have disrupted the Sharks squad and have left their coach stirred and shaken.

“Steve’s sudden retirement is terrible, but you just have to move on. It is a team game, but you always get these individual problems and there is nothing you can do,” Plumtree told Weekend Witness yesterday.

“Steve was fit and he has looked very good and sharp at training. It is out of our control and we just have to move on. But it will take time to find a high-profile replacement.”

Plumtree said that the uninformed and prophets of doom will highlight problems in the Sharks camp, but he said that simply is not true.

“There is a happy culture in the Sharks and one player’s personal problem does not mean we have an unhappy squad. I think you will see that in the way the players perform.”

The Sharks coach believes the problems in the build-up to tonight’s game will galvanise the players.

“I think these setbacks will bring out the best in the team and certainly our pack will be tough and physical.

“The much-maligned scrum has put in hours of training, but we’ll have to see how they go in a match situation.”

What will come as some relief to Sharks supporters is that the Chiefs have also been hit by injury and their captain, abrasive All Black number eight Sione Lauaki, has been ruled out with an infected arm. Utility back Callum Bruce is also out with a knee strain while New Zealand Test fullback Mils Muliaina and dangerous wing Lelia Masaga have stayed at home.

The Chiefs still possess a lively back division with All Blacks halfbacks in Stephen Donald and Brendon Leonard, a penetrative Test centre in Richard Kahui and an excellent finisher in Test wing Sitiveni Sivivatu.

They will certainly test the Sharks’ backs who have failed to perform as a unit in recent seasons and it is certainly time that powerful centre Waylon Murray started to realise his enormous potential.

The Chiefs’ principal concerns are the weather conditions and the Sharks forwards.

“The Sharks have got a very experienced pack and there is going to be heat and humidity,” said coach Ian Foster yesterday. “We feel going with a 5-2 split gives us the ability to deal with those conditions in the best possible way.”

The Sharks, in contrast, are hoping that the Chiefs stick with tradition by making their usual slow start to the season, particularly as they have had a long trip to Durban, and that a combination of a tough pack led by John Smit and the humid, slippery conditions will blunt the Chiefs’ attacking edge and limit their opportunities.

In the uncertain mix of a first outing of the season, how will the Sharks respond to the late disruptions and how effectively will the two teams adapt to the conditions, the fresh interpretations of the laws and the refereeing of a rookie, New Zealander Keith Brown, who is making his Super 14 debut?

These are confusing, troubled times for the Sharks and their supporters and even the ugliest of wins tonight will bring a massive sigh of relief.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15. Stefan Terblanche, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Waylon Murray, 12. Andries Strauss, 11. JP Pietersen, 10. Monty Dumond, 9. Rory Kockott, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Johann Muller, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. John Smit (c), 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16. Craig Burden, 17. Jannie du Plessis, 18. Gerhard Mostert, 19. Willem Alberts, 20. Jacques Botes, 21. Ruan Pienaar, 22. Adrian Jacobs

Chiefs: 15 Mike Delany, 14 Dwayne Sweeney, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard; 8 Colin Bourke, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Kevin O’Neill, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Sona Taumalolo.

Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 James McGougan, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Jarrad Hoeata, 21 Junior Poluleuligaga, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.

Referee: Keith Brown (NZ)

On TV

Kick-off: 7.10pm – live on M-Net, SSpt on HD (171) and SSpt1

Sharks win court battle, page 54

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