Anticipating Antipodes

2008-04-04 00:00

The Sharks open their Super 14 account in the Antipodes with a match against the Hurricanes in Wellington today (8.35 am kick-off), the first of five matches on tour.

Despite being a young side, 14 of the Sharks’ 22 are internationals, 10 of whom featured in the Rugby World Cup (for three different teams — South Africa, France and Tonga).

Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper has made just the one change to last week’s starting team, bringing in the tougher Tane Tu’ipulotu for Tamati Ellison at centre.

On Wednesday, the Hurricanes suffered an injury scare, with All Black flanker Jerry Collins leaving the field at training with a hamstring strain, although he has been named in their side.

The versatility in the Sharks squad — something emphasised by Dick Muir to be a vital part of the modern game — has allowed the coach to name five forwards on the bench, including Tongan Epi Taione who made his debut last week.

The 122-kg Pacific Islander can play at loose forward, centre or wing, and last week doubled as eighthman and first receiver. Similarly, Muir has a former centre/wing, Craig Burden — who last week found himself playing at flank for a time — now playing at hooker.

Flanker Keegan Daniel outran the Blues backline when he scored the fastest try in the Super 14 this year, and the front row has enough mobility to add another loose forward trio in broken play and on attack.

The Sharks have been forced to employ a defensively oriented game-plan most of the season because of the conditions in Durban that have limited the amount of attacking rugby they could play. "Winning ugly" is a term being thrown around, but the emphasis is on winning, and that’s what the Sharks are doing.

But they will have their work cut out for them against a Hurricanes side with plenty of physical Islanders who love to throw the ball around. Defensively, the Sharks will need to be on top of their game, but with the cooler conditions, they will look to run the ball a bit more than they have.

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