The return of Freddie Michalak

2011-06-01 00:00

FRÉDÉRIC Michalak, the skilful French halfback, is back with the Sharks and could see action against the Cheetahs in the Super Rugby derby in Bloemfontein on Saturday evening.

The 28-year-old Michalak, who helped the Sharks to the Currie Cup title in 2008, will arrive in Durban tomorrow and coach John Plumtree said yesterday that the Frenchman will be available to play in Bloemfontein.

The French, surprisingly, have overlooked Michalak for their World Cup squad and Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl told The Witness last night that the playmaker has been signed on a 14-month contract.

“He will be with us until the end of the Super Rugby competition next year and he certainly provides us with options.”

Michalak has played 54 Tests at both scrumhalf and flyhalf and the Sharks, with injury problems following the serious elbow injury to Conrad Hoffman, now have fresh depth at halfback.

Van Zyl said they had been talking to Michalak “for some time, but we had cover at flyhalf [Pat Lambie and Jacques-Louis Potgieter] and scrumhalf [Charl McLeod and Hoffman] and thought we would get through the season okay.”

But, added Van Zyl, the weekend injury to Hoffman has added some urgency to the negotiations and “we have signed Freddie at a very good price”.

Michalak, who helped the British Barbarians beat England at Twickenham on Sunday, was in Cardiff yesterday, said Van Zyl, and he will be leaving for Durban tonight.

The richly experienced Michalak has played for Toulouse since 1998 when he made his debut as a 16-year-old.

Michalak signed with the Sharks for the Super 14 in 2008 before playing a leading role in their triumphant Currie Cup campaign. He then re-signed with his former club Toulouse for the start of the French 2008-09 season.

“It is no surprise that I’m returning to the Sharks,” said Michalak yesterday.

“I loved my year that I spent in Durban and the cherry on the top was definitely winning the Currie Cup trophy.

“Unlike the first time when I signed for the Sharks, there won’t be a problem in terms of any language barrier, and being able to slot in with old team-mates is definitely a plus factor for me.”

Van Zyl said Michalak will provide the Sharks “with unpredictability and freshness”, particularly when injuries and Springbok squad demands would hit their reserves.

“He will complement our style of play, he is a good influence on the players around him on the field, and we welcome him back to our squad,” he said.

Plumtree agreed wholeheartedly.

“It is great to have him back and he will be available to us for selection from this weekend. His arrival could not have been timed better.”

The Sharks face three tough away derbies — against the Cheetahs, Lions and Bulls — on successive weekends.

Michalak, if he settles quickly, could be used at either scrumhalf or even at flyhalf, if faced by injuries or if Plumtree considers switching Pat Lambie from the pivot role to inside centre.

They may also have fresh talent in the midfield if they advance to the play-offs.

The 31-year-old Springbok centre, Marius Joubert, arrives in Durban this weekend from French Top 14 club Clermont Auvergne.

Joubert, able to play either inside or outside centre, and one of only two Springboks to score a hat-trick of tries against the All Blacks, has signed a two-year contract with the Sharks and has indicated he wants to finish his career in Durban.

Van Zyl said that Joubert’s contract only comes into effect on July 1 “and he does need a break after the long European season”.

But it is believed that he may make himself available if the Sharks reach the quarter-final play-offs on June 24.

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