Gale force warning for Sharks

2008-02-09 00:00

The Sharks are less than a week away from their Super 14 opener, against the Western Force at King’s Park, and they have been handed the most timely of warnings.

The Force, sparked by Wallaby playmaker Matt Giteau, have wrapped up their preparations for next Friday’s game in Durban by thumping the Queensland Reds 39-15 in Perth, and Sharks coach Dick Muir is treading warily.

By all accounts the Force, who out-scored the Reds six tries to two, were impressive, but Muir was not surprised.

"I think they could be the most dangerous of the Australian franchises. They only just lost to the Crusaders and now they have comfortably beaten the Reds. They are an ever-improving side."

A feature of the Force, said Muir, was that they do their homework on the opposition and prepare meticulously.

With former All Black coach John Mitchell pulling the strings, the Force were one of the few teams to beat the Sharks last year.

"We are in for a tough opening match, no doubt," said Muir.

The Sharks coach said that his plans were on track and the midweek win (33-5) over the Lions had not caused any major change in his thinking.

He said that both Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen would be fit to face the Force. Steyn missed the Lions game because of an ankle niggle, while Pietersen was slightly injured during the game.

However, wing Odwa Ndungane, who has also ben sidelined by injury, is likely to miss the opening game on Friday.

Muir said he hoped that lock Steven Sykes, recuperating after shoulder surgery, and loosehead Deon Carstens would be ready for selection in March, while Pat Cilliers, recovering from a serious knee injury, should be playing again by April.

Muir said that he would be adopting a horses for courses approach to selection and there would be times when he may use the burly Frans Steyn at flyhalf, in place of the slightly-built Frenchman Freddie Michalak.

But the indications are that Steyn will start at fullback against the Force, with Pietersen back on the wing and Michalak at flyhalf, where he will be involved in an intriguing duel with Giteau.

Bok BJ Botha, if fully fit, seems certain to be at tighthead, but there may be some deliberation over the loosehead berth.

Muir could choose between another Bok, Jannie du Plessis, who usually plays on the tighthead, the rampaging Tendai Mtawarira or Kees Lensing.

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