‘Sharks have plans to put pressure on Williams’

2012-08-02 00:00

FLYHALF Freddie Michalak said yesterday that the Sharks had been working on plans to keep the imposing Chiefs’ centre, Sonny Bill Williams, under wraps in Saturday’s Super Rugby final in Hamilton.

Michalak, speaking from his Sydney hotel, said Williams was a key player in the Chiefs’ line-up.

“He’s a real playmaker and will be a big player for them on the weekend. We will need to keep an eye on him and place him under pressure.”

Michalak and Williams, who have both been in excellent Super Rugby form, will be making their last appearances for their franchises on Saturday. Michalak, with his French Test career back on track, is returning to Toulouse, while Williams will play in Japan before returning to Rugby League in Australia.

The Chiefs, with the massive advantage of playing at home, are heavily favoured to win, but the Sharks will take some confidence from their league outing against the New Zealand conference winners at King’s Park in April.

Not only was it one of those games that the Sharks allowed to slip away, but they also contained Williams and the highly-rated Chiefs backline for most of the night.

The Sharks lost 18-12 and coach John Plumtree blamed a lack of individual skill at crucial moments for the loss. “We had a plan for Sonny Bill, and it worked nicely. We kept them fairly quiet all night really, and we never felt really stressed,” said Plumtree.

The result was that the Chiefs played a largely kicking game in the second half.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie praised the way the Sharks had contained Williams.

“They targeted Sonny’s ball-carrying arm and dislodged ball and he couldn’t get the support runners away.”

Rennie said both teams had battled that night.

“The Sharks were on a long streak without a bye, and that was our third game away from home. I think both sides were pretty knackered,” he said this week.

Michalak said he was delighted with the form he had shown.

“We have worked really hard to get into the position we are now. We have come back with a lot of purpose and taken confidence out of our results.”

He said that it was vital in a play-off game to put points on the board when within striking distance.

“That’s what the [two] drop-goals were all about against the Stormers.”

He said he would be sorry to leave the Sharks after a memorable season.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Sharks and now that we’re in the final. I will do everything in my ability to help them win,” the Frenchman said.

He said he respected that the Chiefs team possessed genuine quality.

“They have won everywhere, at home and on the road, scoring a lot of bonus points over the course of the pool stages of the tournament. It’s going to be difficult, a massive final. We need to offer excellent defence and take our chances to put points on the board when we can,” said Michalak.

Of course, the Sharks have also to overcome the travel schedule from hell to secure the title for the first time.

They travel from Sydney to Hamilton today on the last leg of their Cook’s Tour. There has even been some sympathy in New Zealand for the demands being made of the Sharks.

Wynne Gray, writing in the New Zealand Herald, highlighted their problems.

“The Sharks have got a really raw deal as they approach the final. When they return to Durban, they will have covered 55 000 km during the playoffs, taking in Johannesburg, Brisbane, Cape Town, Sydney, Hamilton and the points in between.

“You’d be doing well to feel frisky with that itinerary on a holiday, never mind having the physical demands and mental anguish of playing three sudden-death matches, the pool and gym recovery, time spent over computer analysis and a bit on the training track.

“That’s playing with an unfair deck, which will always be a problem in a competition topped with playoffs … the three-conference system is uneven and flawed.

“Whatever the result, the Sharks’ tortuous finals route cannot be good for the players or the series.”

Both teams will be named today, with the Chiefs waiting on the fitness of lock and captain Craig Clarke, while the Sharks’ Plumtree has to decide where to play Pat Lambie and how best to revamp his inside backs to cover the hole left by the injured inside centre Tim Whitehead while containing the threatening Sonny Bill.

Saturday’s final kicks off at 9.35 am (SA time) with Steve Walsh as the referee.

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