Whitehead out for Hamilton final

2012-07-31 00:00

THE Sharks, travelling to New Zealand for the Super Rugby final against the Chiefs, arrived in Sydney early yesterday without their young centre, Tim Whitehead, who will miss Saturday’s big game.

Whitehead was a late withdrawal from the tour party after breaking a bone in his hand in Saturday evening’s semi-final win over the Stormers.

Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl told The Witness yesterday that Whitehead, who has shown excellent and consistent form in Super Rugby this year, had returned to Durban on Sunday for Tests and treatment.

The Sharks have an abundance of midfield cover with both the versatile Pat Lambie and outside centre Paul Jordaan over their injuries and joining the tour party, which already has a specialist inside centre in Meyer Bosman.

Coach John Plumtree has a number of backline options, but the choice at inside centre would be between Lambie and Bosman, with either JP Pietersen or Jordaan as a midfield partner.

Plumtree could also opt for Lambie in his favoured fullback position with the in-form Louis Ludik remaining on the wing where he played against the Stormers with Pietersen at outside centre.

The Sharks arrived in Sydney yesterday morning (SA time) and have settled in to their hotel, Van Zyl said.

They will “freshen up” in Australia before continuing their long haul by plane and coach to Hamilton on Thursday.

Plumtree said the Sharks’ performance in downing the fancied Stormers was one of the team’s finest during his tenure as coach.

“I put it right up there with the best displays I’ve seen,” said Plumtree.” They’ve got that confidence and it grows a bit with every week.

“A few weeks ago they would not have won this match and it shows how much they’ve grown in self-belief.”

Plumtree was asked whether the Sharks could overcome travel fatigue and win on Saturday.

“I guess you guys will decide that. I mean, it would be amazing … flying there, flying back here, than back again.

“Nobody’s ever done it. Who can do it? If we don’t do this, someone will eventually. If we can get up physically for this game, anything can happen.”

While the Chiefs wanted South African Craig Joubert to handle the final, Sanzar yesterday appointed New Zealander Steve Walsh as Saturday’s referee.

Walsh, who now lives in Australia, was in charge of the Sharks’ semi-final against the Stormers on Saturday, handling the game without fuss or favour.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie had said he would have preferred the Pietermaritzburg-born-and-bred Joubert, who refereed the World Cup final last year, to control the final.

“He would be my preference, I think he is the best ref in the competition and I think you want the best referee in the final. The fact that he is from Durban makes no difference to us,” Rennie said.

“He is rated number one and we want the number one.”

Joubert refereed the all-New Zealand semi-final on Friday and he will be one of the touch judges (assistant referees) on Saturday.

“Steve thoroughly deserves this appointment to the final, having been arguably our most consistent performer in the middle, throughout this competition,” Sanzar manager Lyndon Bray said yesterday.

“Steve is in great form and he will contribute to what should be an outstanding final.”

Plumtree and Sharks supporters will be hoping that Walsh’s appointment is not a bad omen. Walsh handled the 2007 Super 14 final between the Bulls and the Sharks in Durban. The Bulls won with a controversial last-minute try by Bryan Habana.

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