Full frontal assault

2009-03-06 00:00

FOLLOWING his sojourn with the Crusaders, which saw him win a championship medal with the Christchurch side last year, big lock Ali Williams is back in Auckland and set to lead the Blues out on to the field when they take on the Sharks at Eden Park in their first home match of the tournament today.

Just as the Chiefs faced pressure in their first match at home last week against the Sharks, so the home crowd are looking to the Blues for an Eden Park win.

The Auckland weather has been gloomy leading into the match, but the mercury is expected to rise and the cloud cover is expected to start moving away in time for the kick-off at 5.30 pm (New Zealand time).

If the weatherman is wrong, the drainage at Eden Park is world class and the pitch should be conducive to whatever brand of rugby the two teams aim to embrace.

With the heat and humidity out of the way, the Sharks will certainly be looking to gain that elusive bonus. The Bulls ran the Blues off their feet two weeks ago when they secured the fourth try as early as the 22nd minute but, against the Stormers, a gritty performance showed the Auckland side will not be an easy touch.

They do, however, have to contend with jetlag as they seek to pick up where they left off at Newlands.

They will be up against a Sharks side well-rested, acclimatised to the conditions and well-prepared following a week of intensive training. Another tough match approaches and they are aware that they have a massive task on their hands.

The front row battle will be huge while the respective tight fives are close to international level.

The All Black front-row of John Afoa, captain Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock will be scrumming against three Boks in Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and his brother Jannie while two more Boks, John Smit and Deon Carstens, are lurking on the bench.

The battle at flyhalf, where Jimmy Gopperth is up against Ruan Pienaar, should be a tussle to savour while there is pace and talent aplenty amongst both sets of backs.

The record might show that the Sharks have enjoyed superiority over the Blues since the tournament was extended to 14 teams, but this year’s competition has shown that no match should be taken for granted and no opposition underestimated.

This match is going to be tight and once again it could all boil down to character — something the Sharks have in abundance.

What is worrying is the number of first-time tackles the Sharks have missed and the Blues’ runners will be quick to punish any defensive limitations today.

The Sharks have confidence and they know that victory today will have a huge bearing on the rest of their campaign.

Kick-off: 6.30am (SA time)

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