Sharks /Crusaders preview

by Mike Greenaway

From a Sharks’ point of view, if ever a trend needed to be bucked in Super Rugby it is tomorrow at 9.35am. The KZN team have never beaten the Crusaders in New Zealand in the 15-year history of the competition while the Christchurch-based team – even if they are not allowed to host matches in their earthquake-damaged city in 2011– have never lost a home knock-out game.

They have won 16 of 21 knock-out games, with three of them being away to the Bulls in South Africa (the others were away finals to the Blues and Brumbies), and that in itself is a sobering reminder to the Sharks of how tough it is to win away from home in a sudden-death match after a marathon journey.

The Sharks came close to winning on a few occasions in the ‘90s, and there was a semi-final in 1998 when referee Peter Fleming of Australia seemed to conspire against the visitors (Ian McIntosh would certainly testify to that!) in the final minutes culminating a in a costly yellow-carding of Boeta Wessels (now there is a name from the past …) and a last-minute 36-32 defeat.

The Sharks’ only overseas play-off win was in 1996 when they shocked John Eales’ top-quality Reds team in a semi-final in Brisbane.

Gary Teichmann’s Sharks were immense in putting 40 points past the Queenslanders that day, and it will require a performance of similar magnitude to derail a Crusaders team that for three months now have been motivated towards winning the title for their tragedy-struck city.

The Sharks have been based in the New Zealand capital of Wellington since arriving yesterday from Sydney and this morning will take a short flight (30-minutes) across the Cook Strait that separates the North and South Islands – and Wellington and the touristy, sea-side town of Nelson.

Coach John Plumtree has made just one change to the starting line-up that shocked the Bulls in Pretoria last week. Willem Alberts, who was one of the pace setters in the first half of the competition before injury struck, is preferred to Ryan Kankowski at No 8 in a change that is equally about Alberts now being fully over his shoulder problem (he made his comeback last week off the bench) as it is about the expected conditions – the heavy-set Alberts will be better suited to the predicted rain.

In changes to the bench, veteran opensider Jacques Botes is preferred to young Marcell Coetzee and prop Eugene van Staden ousts Wiehahn Herbst.

From Wellington, Plumtree said: “The guys are comfortable again to be in this underdog situation in that the pressure is all on the home team. Like last week against the Bulls the recipe is the same – if you are going to shock a home side you have to start well and try to sustain it.

“We can’t go through bad patches – I guess that’s one of the main things. In an overseas knock-out game you can’t have periods when you don’t perform, because that is when the home side will put you to the sword.

“While we understand that we are not going to dominate the Crusaders at home for the entire 80-minutes, we simply must have a good start, build on it, and then defend really well, while all the time working hard on our set-piece, because that is where the Crusaders work hard so hard on getting an advantage for their backs to exploit.”

Plumtree said that the underdog status suited the mindset of his team.

“We were written off against the Bulls, and we fed off that, and it is the same again this week. We have our own expectations, we’re in finals rugby and we want to be able to create history. We have never beaten the Crusaders in New Zealand and we want to do that. You have to get over hurdles to be champions – we’ve spoken a lot about that …”

Kick-off: 9.35am

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ)

Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (capt), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.

Substitutes: Quentin MacDonald, Ben Franks, Luke Romano, Jonathan Poff, Kahn Fotuali’i, Matt Berquist, Ryan Crotty/Brent Ward.

Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Stefan Terblanche (capt), 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Gerhard Mostert, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: John Smit, Eugene van Staden, Ross Skeate, Ryan Kankowski, Jacques Botes, Adrian Jacobs, Louis Ludik.

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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