All eyes on Sharks

2014-05-02 00:00

WITH South African teams all at sea in Super Rugby this year, only the Sharks have given reason for optimism. A stretch of nine matches on African soil gave them the boost they needed, and they head into their Australasian tour, which starts this morning with a clash against the Rebels in Melbourne, on top of the tournament’s combined log.

No South African team has won overseas this season and the four games that lie ahead for Jake White’s charges (Rebels, Brumbies, Crusaders and Blues) are likely to have a major impact on the Sharks’ playoff credentials.

Winning on tour is a tall order, and the coach has turned to Frans Steyn, who he identified as a key man at the start of the campaign, to pull the strings at flyhalf this morning against a rested Rebels outfit who were last in action on April 18 when they edged the Force by six points at AAMI Park.

Steyn’s inclusion at 10 further highlights the faith that White has in the 26-year-old, and he has been entrusted with sparking a performance far from the one that produced a tryless display against the ambitious Higlanders in Durban last weekend.

With one of the most prodigious boots in world rugby and a World Cup winners’ medal as a centre to his name, much of the focus back home this morning will be on Steyn and whether or not he possesses the flair, pace and instinctive decision making to get the Sharks into try scoring positions. In the absence of Tim Swiel, the long-booted Steyn will also take over the kicking duties.

But the Rebels, full of respect for their South African opposition, are focused more on the breakdown — identifying the physicality of the Sharks pack as the area demanding the most attention.

There is no doubt that the Sharks — with the likes of the Du Plessis brothers (Jannie and Bismarck), Tendai Mtawarira, Jean Deysel and Willem Alberts — have the muscle to concern any pack in world rugby.

“Every team I’ve played with, if we’ve played South African teams, it’s always about being clever, and getting around them and moving them around,” Rebels flanker Scott Fuglistaller told Australia’s Herald Sun this week.

“I think, this time, matching that physicality and taking it away from them is a key driver. You put someone on a [physical] pedestal like that, then you’ve already lost half the battle before you go on.”

If last year’s clash between the sides is anything to go by — the Sharks won 64-7 in Durban — then there is nothing to worry about today. That game was followed by a punch-up between team-mates Kurtley Beale and Cooper Vuna in one of the darkest moments in the Rebels history.

But with the Sharks bruised after last weekend and far away from home, this morning’s affair is unlikely to run in a similar vein.

The Rebels have recalled scrumhalf Luke Burgess, a shrewd tactical kicker, and coach Tony McGahan said Burgess’s experience and physicality would be vital.

“We’re looking for a change in dynamics this weekend as we play the Sharks who have such a big physical pack,” McGahan said.

“Luke has a strong kicking game from nine, and we’ll need the physicality around the ruck and in attack and defence that Luke can certainly bring.”

Kick-off is at 11.40 am.


Rebels: Jason Woodward, Male Sau, Tamati Ellison, Mitch Inman, Tom English, Bryce Hegarty, Luke Burgess, Scott Higginbotham (captain), Scott Fuglistaller, Colby Fainga’a, Luke Jones, Cadeyrn Neville, Laurie Weeks, Shota Horie, Cruze Ah-Nau. Replacements: Pat Leafa. Max Lahiff, Paul Alo-Emilie, Hugh Pyle, Sean McMahon, Nic Stirzaker, Tom Kingston, Angus Roberts.

Sharks: Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, Paul Jordaan, Heimar Williams, J.P. Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee, Stephan Lewies, Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (captain), Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Etienne Oosthuizen, Keegan Daniel, Cobus Reinach, Fred Zeilinga, SP Marais.

Weekend Super Rugby fixtures

Today: Blues v Reds — 9.35 am

Melbourne Rebels v Sharks — 11.40 am

Tomorrow: Crusaders v Brumbies — 6.35 am

Chiefs v Lions — 9.35 am

Waratahs v Hurricanes — 11.40 am

Stormers v Highlanders — 3 pm

Bulls v Cheetahs — 5.05 pm.

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