Sharks misery deepens

2008-04-27 00:00

IT was the darkest of weekends for Sharks rugby, on and off the field.

Not only have they lost French flyhalf Frederic Michalak to a serious knee injury, but Springbok prop BJ Botha, the cornerstone of their pack, could be moving to Ulster.

On the field, their form dipped sharply in a loss to the Waratahs, while, at Newlands, the Wildebeest lost 14-22 to Western Province in the Vodacom Cup semi-final in a match they should have won.

Reports from Ireland claim that Ulster have already “completed a major coup with the signing of South African prop BJ Botha from the Natal-based Sharks”.

Botha is currently in New Zealand with the Sharks.

But Rudolf Straeuli, the Sharks commercial manager, said last night that the reports were premature.

“First, BJ has a contract with us until December this year, and not May as these reports claim. Second, we have made him a lucrative offer to renew his contract and he is still considering his position. Certainly he has not yet responded to our offer.”

Straeuli said that the offer made by the Sharks to the 28-year-old Botha was better than anything from the other South African franchises.

“But obviously no one can match the offers in Europe. BJ really has to decide whether he wants to stay here and play for the Boks or move overseas. Peter de Villiers [Bok coach] is not going to be able to choose too many guys from over there.”

The Irish Times reported that the deal with Botha “is all but confirmed and only depends on the Irish Rugby Football Union ratifying it, although that is not thought to be a problem”.

“All overseas provincial deals have to go through the relevant IRFU committee, but it is mostly a rubber-stamping exercise.”

Ulster coach Matt Williams has reportedly also signed Stormers and former Michaelhouse number eight Robbie Diack and former Australian Rugby League star Clinton Schifcofske, who plays for the Reds.

Straeuli said that the loss of Michalak was a severe blow for the Sharks' Super 14 and Currie Cup ambitions.

“We already have Fred on a plane to France. He was enjoying his rugby here and would have been with us until the end of the Currie Cup.”

Straeuli said that the Frenchman could return next year.

“He is keen, but we really can't talk about next year until we see how he gets over this injury.”

The tour to Australasia has proved a disaster for the Sharks, who have slipped down the Super 14 log while losing both their major off-season signings, Tongan Epi Taione (suspened) and now Michalak.

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