Win it for Plumtree

2013-06-29 00:00

KEEGAN Daniel, the Sharks captain, says his players want “to honour” discarded head coach John Plumtree by beating the Auckland Blues in this afternoon’s Super Rugby outing at King’s Park.

No one quite knows how the Sharks will react to the chaos of the past few weeks as loyalty and transparency went out the window, but Daniel says the players owe Plumtree and his fellow coaches “a great performance”.

Ironically, Daniel is facing his own battle with form. Perhaps it is because he is trying too hard, but he has consistently coughed up possession and penalties all season. Today he faces a major challenge to prove himself as a player and as a captain.

The Sharks have only a slight mathematical chance of reaching the play-offs, but today’s contest is about positive, honest endeavour and providing some hope for the future after the weeks of conspiracy and uncertainty.

The Blues, lying eighth, have arrived with a team born to run and the 10th-placed Sharks are looking to squeeze the life out of them at forward and make their tackles across the pitch.

Kirwan said that the week’s preparations had been disrupted by the late arrival of the five All Blacks who played against France last weekend.

“It’s not the most ideal preparation but the boys are really excited and refreshed.”

Two of the latecomers, veteran All Black hooker Keven Mealamu and powerful centre Rene Ranger, will play off the bench while scrumhalf Piri Weepu, flank Steven Luatua and fullback Charles Piutau will start this afternoon.

“It’s a Test match for us,” said Kirwan yesterday. “It feels like the beginning of the season and we’ve been chatting about how important this game is for our season. It’s our final and here is sudden-death pressure.”

But, compared to the Sharks’, the Blues’ preparations have been a doddle. The Sharks started the week with Plumtree as their coach and trying to integrate a dozen players — returning from injury or Springbok duty — into a 22-match day squad.

Plumtree departed, via the boardroom after one practice, leaving assistants Hugh Reece-Edwards and Grant Bashford, who are themselves facing the most uncertain of futures, to pick up the pieces.

Daniel has been putting on a brave face.

“We have to come together and start playing as we know we can. We’ve had a pretty rough campaign and there’s been a lot of stuff happening in the background, but as a team we have stuck together and now we want to play some great rugby.

“We know that if we are too loose and allow the ball to go to ground, then the Blues can attack from anywhere.”

The Sharks do have seven returning Springboks and they will be looking to flank Willem Alberts to pick up where he left off against Samoa. Certainly the Sharks will need him and his fellow-Boks to be at their most physical today.

And, arriving out of the blue is Edwin Hewitt, the Griquas lock, who has been contracted following the injuries to Pieter-Steph du Toit and Anton Bresler, and he looked a willing, exciting prospect against the Lions last Friday night.

Butch James, named in the midfield, is also finally back for the Sharks and it is expected that he and Pat Lambie will switch between flyhalf and inside centre during the game.

John Smit’s hatchet job on Plumtree has divided Sharks’ supporters. We will see this afternoon whether it has also split the players.

Sharks: 15. Riaan Viljoen, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Louis Ludik, 12. Butch James, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel (captain), 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Edwin Hewitt, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Kyle Cooper, 1. Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Daniel Mienie/Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Jandre Marais, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Jacques Botes, 21. Cobus Reinach, 22. Jaco van Tonder

Blues: 15. Charles Piutau, 14. Frank Halai, 13. Jackson Willison, 12. Francis Saili, 11. George Moala, 10. Chris Noakes, 9. Piri Weepu, 8. Peter Saili, 7. Luke Braid, 6. Steven Luatua, 5. Ali Williams (captain), 4. Anthony Boric, 3. Angus Ta’avao, 2. James Parsons, 1. Tim Perry.

Replacements: 16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18. Kane Barrett /Culum Retallick, 19. Brendon O’Connor, 20. Jamison Gibson-Park, 21.Baden Kerr, 22. Rene Ranger.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (RSA). Kick-off: 2.50 pm.

Today’s fixtures (only SA and NZ teams):

Highlanders vs Crusaders 9:35 am

Sharks vs Blues 2.50 pm

Bulls vs Kings 5.00 pm.

Stormers vs Cheetahs 7.10 pm.

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