Sharks opt for a light pack

2008-03-06 00:00

CIRCUMSTANCES have forced coach Dick Muir to opt for pace rather than physicality in selecting his Sharks team for tomorrow night’s top-of-the-log Super 14 battle with the Auckland Blues.

Muir, in naming one of the most mobile packs to play for the Sharks in recent seasons and without too many other options, yesterday included two fliers on the flank and a lanky lock for what promises to be a fast-moving contest.

The Sharks coach has lost his two beefy, hard-driving and experienced forwards with lock Johan Ackermann moving to the Cape and flank AJ Venter, who was his likely replacement in the second row, crying off with a deep cut to the calf which had become dangerously infected.

Springbok lineout specialist Albert van den Berg, one of the quickest tight forwards in world rugby, will now partner Johann Muller at lock.

Muir has also included two relatively small loose forwards with two open side flanks, the 92-kg Keegan Daniel and Jacques Botes (98 kg), joining number eight Ryan Kankowski in an exceptionally quick backrow.

The good news for the Sharks is that Bismarck du Plessis returns at hooker, joining big brother Jannie in the front row, adding a hard edge to the forward play and improving the lineout throwing.

With scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar still sidelined by a collarbone injury, the combative Rory Kockott is retained at scrumhalf, but there is a change on the wing with the in-form Stefan Terblanche taking over from Odwa Ndungane.

“It is simple rotation,” said Muir last night. “Both Odwa and Stefan are playing well and it is a horses-for-courses’ selection. He, Ruan [Pienaar] and AJ could well be back next week.”

There has been speculation that Muir might have started with the lively Adrian Jacobs or Frans Steyn at centre, but the Sharks are facing arguably the most dangerous attacking backs in the Super 14 and he would have been reluctant to disrupt the settled defensive pairing of Brad Barritt and Waylon Murray in midfield.

Muir, who relied on French flyhalf Fred Michalak to cover for scrumhalf at Loftus last week, has included specialist Charl Macleod on the bench where lock Steven Sykes, after a long lay-off, is also included.

Blues coach David Nucifora yesterday made two backline changes to the team which ran up 50 points against the Cheetahs last weekend and one was forced on him by injury. Wing Anthony Tuitavake returns to the starting team in place of Rudi Wulf, while Ben Atiga is at fullback in place of the injured Isa Nacewa.

“Anthony [Tuitavake] has been in great form and deserves his starting spot while Rudi [Wulf] will play a major part in the game countering the effect of the Sharks’ bench,” said Nucifora

“We’re looking forward to this week’s game as we feel it will be the best indicator as to where we are. King’s Park is a great place to play and we don’t need the disappointments of last season to motivate us for Saturday.”

The match kicks off at 7.10 pm tomorrow.

Sharks: Francois Steyn, Stefan Terblanche, Waylon Murray, Bradley Barritt, JP Pietersen, Frederic Michalak, Rory Kockott, Ryan Kankowski, Jacques Botes, Keegan Daniel, Johann Muller (capt), Albert van den Berg, BJ Botha, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis.

Replacements: Craig Burden, Tendai Mtawarira, Steven Sykes, Jean Deysel, Charl Mcleod, Adrian Jacobs, Odwa Ndungane.

Blues: Ben Atiga, Anthony Tuitavake, Isaia Toeava, Benson Stanley, Joe Rokocoko, Nick Evans, Danny Lee, Nick Williams, Justin Collins, Jerome Kaino, Troy Flavell (captain), Kurtis Haiu, John Afoa, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: Tom McCartney, Bronson Murray, Bryn, Onosa’i Tololima—Auva’a, Taniela Moa, Rudi Wulf, George Pisi.

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