Few changes expected to Sharks team going into Lions clash

2010-04-13 00:00

HEAD coach John Plumtree is unlikely to tamper unnecessarily with the Sharks starting line-up for Saturday evening’s Super 14 outing against the bottom-of-the-log Lions at Ellis Park.

The Sharks had their bye at the weekend, providing John Smit, Keegan Daniel, Johann Muller and Alistair Hargreaves, players who have been nursing injuries, with another week to recover.

Plumtree’s focus in selection will be on the backrow, where he has to find a replacement for Ryan Kankowski who broke his thumb against the Queensland Reds. He should have Springbok lock Muller fit for the game but, for the rest and barring injury, he is likely to stay with the team that beat the Queensland Reds.

His selection at number eight will depend on how he wants to play the Lions, a mobile, attacking team with a porous defence.

If Plumtree opts for a tight game aimed at strangling the Lions at source, then he could start with a massive back row and include both the 120 kg Willem Alberts and Jean Deysel, the 112 kg flank, who play similar, hard-driving games, with Jacques Botes on the open side.

Alberts has played most of his rugby at number eight, but Plumtree has been using him ahead of Deysel on the flank in recent weeks.

But the return from injury this week of the mobile Daniel does provide Plumtree with another option. Daniel’s greater pace off the side of the scrum would help counter the Lions’ expansive game, but he could be used in this role coming off the bench in the second half when the game becomes more open.

Muller’s return provides another boost, but he may also only start off the bench. The form shown by his replacement at lock, the maturing, more physical Alistair Hargreaves, has been encouraging and he could retain his place.

Dick Muir, the former Sharks coach now in charge of the Lions, has had a testing season and eight defeats on the trot. His team’s poor defence — on average they are conceding nearly 45 points a game — and the poor goalkicking are major problems.

But there have also been on-going calls for Muir to replace his expensive flyhalf signing, the 36-year-old veteran All Black Carlos Spencer, with the ex-Sharks pivot Herkie Kruger. Spencer failed with all three attempts at goal during their 41-26 loss to the Reds at the weekend and Kruger’s inclusion would provide the Lions with a reliable kicker.

Lions president Kevin de Klerk said yesterday he would take steps to solve the team’s defensive problems and would appoint a defence coach.

The Lions conceded four tries in the first 18 minutes against the Reds on Saturday and De Klerk said the side’s defence “was unacceptable”.

”We simply cannot play catch-up rugby every game.”

The Lions have conceded 354 points this season, nearly 100 more than the second-from-bottom Cheetahs.

The Ellis Park match kicks off at 5.05 pm on Saturday.

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