Mercurial French flyhalf Frédéric Michalak comes to the Sharks with 47 Test caps under his belt, having replaced Butch James who has gone north to play in the UK for Bath Rugby.
“His acquisition was in an area where a void was being left by Butch,” explains coach Dick Muir to Michael Marnewick of www.sharksrugby.co.za, “and we needed to fill it. It was a position which was held by a senior and experienced international player so we needed to replace him with another international player.”
His English has come on in leaps and bounds since he arrived a few months ago when he barely knew a word or two of the language, and carrying out an interview is not comparable to drawing blood from a stone as it was three months ago when an interpreter was needed.
“I have been here for a few months now, and am settling in and really enjoying it,” this icon of French rugby admits. “The players have been very welcoming and I think I am fitting in with the team and the culture here at the Sharks. It’s exciting to be here, an adventure.”
He explains that in his home town of Toulouse (where he has played all his senior rugby), his popularity means he is often swamped by fans. “Sometimes it can be very difficult in Toulouse if you just want to have a quiet drink,” he says, and probably enjoys relative anonymity in Durban – for now.
He has been quoted as saying some of the Test rugby he has had to play for France has not suited his own personal style and admits that, “I think playing in a tournament [Super 14] where there is more running rugby is a great attraction for me. Nowhere in Europe can you play this kind of rugby and so I look forward to playing against some of the best players in the world.”
Used to playing in front of a capacity, 20 000 crowd at his home ground at Stade Toulouse, he will probably be playing in front of twice that number at his new home ground, The Absa Stadium Durban.
“I am really excited to playing in the Super 14, he says enthusiastically. “It’s like a dream come true for me. I came to the Sharks because I enjoy the challenges that rugby offers, and I expect nothing less than a huge challenge in the Super 14.”
Coach Dick Muir offers more insights, explaining that, “Fred’s told me that it is totally different here to what he has experienced before, and I am sure that he’s a lot more confident and physical than he was before.
“His view was that he didn’t want to put on bulk, in that he feared losing agility, but he’s been very impressed with the work he’s done with Mark Steele which hasn’t been body-building type gym work, but explosive work which he has bought into totally.
“The extra conditioning and physical preparation that we have done has prepared him because we know how physical the tournament is.”
Michalak explains further: “Because the domestic season is so long in France, we have a much shorter preseason period. For me, the preparations for the Super 14 were as long and tough as for the Rugby World Cup.
While Michalak is known for his creative ability, he is not the only one in the team, with the Sharks boasting a number of young, exciting players, and Michalak is not so much there to win games for the Sharks because of this rugby genius, but more to create the opportunities for his team-mates to exploit.
“We have a lot of match-winners, so our playing style wouldn’t be structured specifically around him,” admits his coach.
Letting us in on his personal traits, Muir explains that Michalak is a “real player’s player.
“If I sit down at the same table as him at breakfast, it won’t take him long to sneak away. He wouldn’t want to be seen by the other players as a coach’s favourite. But he’s really fitting in well, enjoying being here, getting on with everyone and has been a true professional. He’s obviously had a very good upbringing.”
Fans can expect to see Frederic in the Number 10 jersey this Friday night when the Sharks take on the Western Force at The Absa Stadium Durban at 7pm for the team’s opening Vodacom Super 14 match.Tweet