Sharks under pressure

2011-03-26 00:00

THE Crusaders, riding a wave of New Zealand emotion after the devastating earthquake in their hometown of Christchurch and fielding a potent combination without obvious weakness, are strong favourites to down the Sharks in their historic Super Rugby match at Twickenham tomorrow.

The London contest will be the first Super Rugby game played outside the southern hemisphere and will be between two of the most popular teams in the competition. It is expected that the crowd, which is to be capped at 55 000 due to transport concerns on a Sunday in London, will just eclipse the previous record of 54 000 held by Loftus.

The seven-time champion Crusaders, the most successful team in Super Rugby, started slowly, losing to the Blues and then sharing the points with the Hurricanes after a cancelled game following the earthquake. They have since made a telling impact, thumping the Waratahs 33-18, the Brumbies 52-10 and then the Highlanders 44-13 in spite of being without Richie McCaw, their inspirational captain, flank and IRB Player of the Year in 2010.

The Sharks in contrast, made a positive start to their season winning the first four games, but in the last fortnight they have lost some of their rhythm and intensity, squeaking home against the struggling Rebels in Melbourne and then losing, unexpectedly, 9-15 to the Chiefs in Hamilton last Friday.

Captain John Smit conceded that the Sharks have to improve dramatically to stay with the Crusaders.

“It’s important that we get back up to our game. We need to up the ante and get our game going,” said Smit.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said his players would not be caught up in the London hype.

“We are here to perform. The focus is to put on a good performance and I am sure we won’t lose our focus. We are here to play rugby. We are representing those people back home and they will want to see a good performance and we are also raising funds,” he said.

There are two changes to the Crusaders team with loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett replacing Ben Franks and wing Zac Guildford in for Adam Whitelock.

All Black flyhalf Dan Carter said yesterday he is expecting a physical encounter.

“The Sharks are a team full of big, fast men and it will be a very tough match. They have strengths across the park, but we’ve prepared well for them. It’s easy to get excited about this one,” said Carter.

The loss of Pat Lambie, the backline spark, goalkicker and the competition’s leading points-scorer, to a broken finger has come at a bad time for the Sharks and replacement Jacques-Louis Potgieter will be under fierce pressure.

He and the Sharks midfield will also be tested defensively as the brawny Crusaders backrow — the influential Carter and the formidable midfield pairing of Sonny Bill Williams and Robbie Fruean — bash away to create openings and go-forward ball for such dangerous attackers as Isreal Dagg.

The Sharks, if they are to stay in the contest, simply have to place the Crusaders pack under pressure to ensure that Carter and his bruisers in midfield are on their heels when they move the ball.

It will not be easy against a pack crowded with All Blacks, but as Sharks coach John Plumtree has said, the Sharks have to do the job at the breakdown and tackle area if they are to break the Crusaders’ continuity and smother Williams and company in midfield.

“It’s going to be require a huge effort from us and we’re going to need to play above ourselves,” the Sharks coach added.

And, of course, the Sharks cannot just take the field hoping to stop the Crusaders playing their game, but will have to produce their own high-tempo approach

They will also be hoping that the Crusaders arrived in London in midweek and in dribs and drabs — while the Sharks were back home in Durban for most of the week, will be to their advantage.

History is also against the Sharks, who have beaten the Crusaders only twice in 14 Super Rugby games.

The Sharks will have to play out of their skins to win, but the smart money would be on the Crusaders prevailing against a willing Sharks team — one which lacks midfield authority and is now missing their talented playmaker.



Sharks: 15. Louis Ludik, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Stefan Terblanche, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Alistair Hargreaves, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. John Smit (c).

Replacements: 16. Eugene van Staden, 17. Tendai Mtawarira,18. Gerhard Mostert,19. Jacques Botes, 20. Conrad Hoffmann, 21. Adrian Jacobs, 22. JP Pietersen.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.

Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Chris Jack, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Kahn Fotuali’i, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Referee: Steve Walsh (NZ). Kick-off: 17.00pm

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