Super rugby: sharks to face a crusaders squad bent on ‘doing everything the hard way’

2011-06-23 00:00

THE Sharks have won their first battle and yesterday reached their destination in New Zealand ahead of Saturday’s Super Rugby quarter-final against the Crusaders at Nelson.

The Chilean ash cloud closed down airports in Australia yesterday and there were fears that the Sharks would only be able to fly on to New Zealand at the end of the week. But Sharks commercial manager Rudolf Straeuli said late yesterday that the squad had arrived, as scheduled, in Wellington and they would move on to Nelson late tomorrow.

“I believe there was a slight delay in Sydney,” said Straeuli “but they did fly on to Wellington as planned. There is no problem getting to Nelson now because they can travel by ferry if the airports are closed on Friday.”

While all Sharks’ eyes are on the Crusaders, the hosts are already looking ahead to a semi-final meeting with the Stormers in Cape Town.

Assistant coach Daryl Gibson said this week that the Crusaders, seeking their eighth Super Rugby title, would be doing “everything the hard way.”

A win over the Sharks would take Carter and Co. to Cape Town, while an upset win by the Sharks, one hardly being contemplated by the Crusaders after their 44-28 win at Twickenham, would see John Plumtree’s team playing the Reds in Brisbane next weekend.

The Crusaders have said they would rather play in Brisbane than Cape Town. “This is the hard way: going to South Africa, win there and come back and win the final. It’s what we’ve faced all year, so I guess a little bit of adversity is good for you.”

The Sharks have spent the last 24 hours in planes and airports while the Crusaders are training in Christchurch all week before travelling to Nelson tomorrow.

Still, it has been the most disruptive of seasons for the Crusaders who have no home ground following the Christchurch earthquake. The longest they have spent in the same bed consecutively this season is eight nights and that was in Cape Town.

Meanwhile, former Springbok and Sharks lock Mark Andrews said the tough win over the Bulls will count against John Plumtree’s team on Saturday.

“If the game was being played in Durban, I think I’d be reasonably confident of putting my money on the Sharks,” Andrews told Sport 24. “But the realist in me says the Crusaders will probably win in New Zealand.”

Andrews said the long flight and bruising Loftus game would favour the Crusaders. “By all accounts the game in Pretoria took a toll on the guys. There will be niggles and bumps from it, with some blokes still pretty sore. I’m worried about whether there’ll be enough gas left in the tank. And I know what the travel across time zones does to you, however you try to overcome it. I see no reason why the Sharks shouldn’t be up for it mentally; they’ll lift themselves on that front as they’re in the knockout stage a little unexpectedly and will adopt a go-for-broke kind of motivation.

“But physically it may just be asking too much.”

Andrews said he is happy that Freddie Michalak is at flyhalf. “Pat Lambie is a very talented young man, but he was playing in the pocket (at No 10) a bit, trying to make things happen, and taking the forwards out of the game.”

The change at fullback and flyhalf has been a positive change, he said. While Andrews, reluctantly, backs the Crusaders, Stormers forwards coach Matt Proudfoot says the Sharks could cause another upset.

“With the momentum the Sharks have now, I think it will be difficult to beat them. They will have the same attitude as in the past weekend’s game and that is that they have nothing to lose. It makes them a very dangerous side.

“It looks as if they’re in the zone that they were in during last year’s Currie Cup final when they played us off the park in the first 20 or 30 minutes. The Crusaders are a phenomenal side and it’s only a team like them that will be able to handle the Sharks. I think it’s going to be a 50-50 affair.”

Saturday’s game in Nelson kicks off at 9.35 am. The other quarter-final is between the Blues and the Waratahs tomorrow at 9.35 am.

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