Lineouts challenge for Sharks

2012-07-25 00:00

SHARKS coach John Plumtree says it is simply unfair that the Stormers will be fielding such a tall lineout in Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final at Newlands.

The 20-year-old Eben Etzebeth returns from injury for the semi-final and the Stormers will be fielding the Springboks’ first-choice lock pairing against the Sharks. Etzebeth looms at 2,03 metres (6 feet 8 inches in old-fashioned English) and he partners the 2,08 metres (6 feet 10 inches) Andries Bekker in the second row.

Bekker, the obvious Bok replacement for the retired Victor Matfield, missed the Tests against England because of a sore back.

The pair dwarf the Sharks’ locks, the 1,92 metre (6 feet 4 inches) Willem Alberts and Anton Bresler at 1,98 metres (6 feet 6 inches).

“Yes, the Stormers lineout is really big and they have an unfair advantage with some monsters there,” said Plumtree with a smile.

“Their setpiece is something they rely on and they gain a lot of confidence out of winning a territory game. They don’t mind kicking the ball out because they attack the opposition’s lineout,” he said.

Plumtree, wanting to include Alberts for his ball-carrying ability, shifted the blindside flank to lock for the Reds game at the weekend.

“He did really well at lock, but I didn’t use him in a traditional locking role. He wasn’t involved in a lot of lineouts and we left him to play his running game. The only area he was really tied up was in the scrum.

“I thought it was positive, but I can say that because we won.”

Plumtree said the move allowed him to keep his successful backrow — Kankowski, Daniel and Coetzee — together. “But there is always going to be a bit more pressure at lineout time, but Keegan, Ryan, Willem and Anton did really well against the Reds. We know it’s an area the Stormers will target and we will need to be sharp with our lineout.”

Plumtree said the return to fitness and form of Ryan Kankowski, who was now in charge of the lineouts, had been a boost. “He’s done a good job calling the lineouts and the guys have been switched, but Stormers will provide a real challenge so we will have to be on the mark.”

Kankowski said yesterday he was enjoying his new responsibility.

“It is different and the first time since school that I’ve been involved in calling lineouts. There is a bit of pressure, but we have a few good lineout options and the senior players in the team are helping.”

Finding a counter to arguably the tallest lineout in world rugby will not be easy, said Kankowski.

“Eben and Andries are both brilliant lineout options, but we will watch their games, come up with a few plans and hopefully it all comes off on the weekend.”

Kankowski said the players had gelled well in recent weeks.

“We like making things tough for ourselves. We only seem to play when there’s a knife against our throat. We’ve had a good couple of wins and we’re building momentum, going into semi-finals,” he said.

Plumtree said the Sharks would be travelling to Cape Town tomorrow — a day early — and they would almost certainly be without injured fullback Pat Lambie.

“But Louis Ludik’s been going really well at fullback and we’ll make a late call on [centre] Paul Jordaan.”

Plumtree paid tribute to flyhalf Fred Michalak, who is returning to France after the Super Rugby season.

“He’s really enjoying himself and he doesn’t want to leave. He’s pivotal, a big game player who loves the big occasion. We give him a lot of responsibility and he’s going really well.”

Plumtree said the log-topping Stormers’ consistency was their greatest strength. “They don’t change too much in what they do, but what they do is really efficient. They work really hard defensively. They have a real belief and their leadership is clearly very strong, and that’s why they’re in a situation where, if they beat us, they get a home final.”

The semi-final kicks off at 5.05 pm on Saturday.

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