‘Clash with the old enemy’ looms

2010-04-27 00:00

RUAN Pienaar, back in his old scrumhalf role, yesterday received a rave review from Sharks head coach John Plumtree.

The Sharks’ problems at flyhalf at the start of the season delayed Pienaar’s return to his favoured scrumhalf position, but he has flourished since his move back to the base of the scrum.

“Ruan has been our best back all year,” Plumtree said.

“He has matured into a quality player, more consistent and not worried if he does make a mistake as he did in the past when he allowed things to get him down.

“He’s in a play-making role and I can’t speak highly enough of him.”

Plumtree said that if Pienaar is not the “best number nine in the country then he is certainly the second best [to Bok Fourie du Preez].”

The Sharks face the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday night and Pienaar, if he overcomes a slight knee problem, will be up against Du Preez.

“It’s great for him, this match-up against Fourie this weekend, and I hope he will be fit and ready.”

Pienaar twisted a knee in scoring the Sharks’ only try in their win over the Blues at King’s Park over the weekend and, although he played on, he handed over the goal-kicking duties to Andy Goode and then Rory Kockott.

“Ruan landed badly on his knee and it has caused a bit of swelling. The injury has reacted well to ice and treatment, and I’m hoping Ruan will be ready by training on Thursday,” said Plumtree.

The news on Bok wing JP Pietersen’s injury is less encouraging. Pietersen left the field in the first half after twisting a knee.

“It doesn’t look good,” said Plumtree. “It looks like a cartilage tear. It was a freak accident without any contact and he will be out for the rest of the Super 14.”

Plumtree could have an abundance of loose-forward riches if Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts and Keegan Daniel pass fitness tests this week, and join Jacques Botes and Jean Deysel in fighting for the three places in the starting line-up.

“Willem picked up a bit of an ankle injury against the Blues and we’ll rest him from training until Thursday.”

Plumtree said that flank Daniel, who has been nursing a pinched nerve in his shoulder for the past few weeks, will be available for selection.

The Sharks coach could also have Springbok number eight Kankowski back weeks ahead of schedule, after he was sidelined with a broken thumb.

“We’ll see at training whether he can lift the jumpers, pass and catch comfortably — and, if he does, there is a chance that Ryan will play,” said Plumtree.

Plumtree agreed that the log-leading Bulls were under more pressure than the eighth-placed Sharks to win on Saturday.

“Yeah, a fair bit would have to happen for us to qualify for the Super playoffs now.

“We’re not talking about the semi-finals, but we are just looking forward to a good clash with the old enemy.

“It is really disappointing, from our side, that we’re not in the same position as them. If we had not dropped a couple of close home games, and then lost [controversially to the Waratahs] in Sydney, things could have been a bit different. But that’s the way it is.

“The Bulls know that a win over us will confirm a home semi-final and that is a massive carrot for them. From our side, we want continue the momentum we have built over the past five weeks.”

The Bulls have romped to a series of 50-point wins at Loftus this season and Plumtree said it will be a major disappointment if the Sharks go down heavily.

“The Bulls have scored the most tries in the competition, and yet it is interesting that they have still been criticised for their style of play.

“Their strength is that when they get themselves in a position on the field where they want to be, they’re very disciplined, said Plumtree.

“That’s their rugby culture. Discipline is big for them and it is driven internally.

“You can put that down to Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez, who run the side well,” he added.

The New Zealand-born coach sees Saturday’s contest as a “clash of their big runners against ours and their big tacklers against ours”.

“It will be interesting to see who is left standing at the end, but what is certain is that it’s going to be physical.

“We have a good record at Loftus. We get good support up there and the guys are excited about the challenge of playing at Loftus.

“The Bulls and Sharks definitely bring out the best in each other. That’s probably because of the big clashes we’ve had in the past.”

Saturday’s game kicks off at 7.10 pm and Jonathan Kaplan, South Africa’s top referee, will be in charge.

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