Smit heads the Sharks

2008-10-03 00:00

John Smit, back from an extended injury break, has taken over the captaincy of the Sharks for this afternoon’s Currie Cup outing against Griquas.

The World Cup-winning Springbok captain, who will be making his first start in three months, will now lead the Sharks after lock Johann Muller yesterday withdrew with a side strain.

“It’s certainly not a serious injury and Johann [Muller] will be on the bench,” coach John Plumtree told Weekend Witness yesterday.

Former Springbok Albert van den Berg moves up from the bench to join Steven Sykes in the second row.

Smit, still short of puff after being sidelined by a groin injury, will also not overstay his welcome and Plumtree said the burly hooker will probably only play the first half before making way for his Springbok understudy Bismarck du Plessis.

The Sharks, with a three-point cushion at the top of the log, have already nailed down a home semi-final for next Saturday, but they have to beat Griquas today to ensure that the final will be played in Durban (on October 25) if they win next Saturday’s play-off.

The Sharks’ opponents next weekend are likely to be either the Lions or Western Province and Plumtree would not commit himself to say just who he would like to see in the opposite corner.

“It makes no difference who we play — they will both be difficult to beat and at the moment the focus is on Griquas. They’re a tough side, one we just can’t go out and expect to beat by 50 points, and the challenge for the players is to get up for this match with the semi-final a week away. We faced a similar test against the Falcons and we didn’t do that job very well. Griquas will be stronger. They have a lively back division and a willing pack of forwards.”

The Griquas have a couple of injury problems, but will field a well-balanced outfit. Talented wing Bjorn Basson has been sidelined with Egon Seconds replacing him while Riaan Viljoen moves to inside centre with Alwyn Hollenbach, on loan from the Cheetahs, alongside him in midfield. Number eight and captain Gareth Krause will play his 96th and last match for Griquas before moving overseas.

Plumtree said that the emphasis is on getting a positive result to avoid the prospect of having to travel away for the final.

“But the players will want to feel good about the way they perform and we need to go into the play-offs with momentum.”

He conceded that the carrot of the semi-final could be a distraction and players may be concerned about injury.

“We have spoken about it and warned them that injuries often occur when you hold back. There is also enough competition in the squad to keep everyone on their toes so I’m expecting a strong showing.”

Indeed, it is this depth in every area which has allowed Plumtree to stay with his strongest squad for the critical closing weeks of the competition. The threat of injury is real, but the Sharks coach has genuine quality cover in every position.

His concern is slotting the many individual talents into a cohesive whole. Against the Lions sparks of brilliance — from Ryan Kankowski, JP Pietersen and Jean Deysel — and a wayward performance by Earl Rose, papered over a disjointed team effort.

Plumtree would rather have it the other way round with victory built on a strong collective effort rather than fashioned by the heroics of a couple of stars. And, if the Sharks can achieve that objective today, without picking up any disruptive injuries, they will be in excellent shape for the semi-finals.

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