The Sharks rolled down from the hills of the Southern Alps into the coastal town of Dunedin on Thursday with their coaching staff warning them all the way on the three-hour bus trip of the hungry Highlanders team lying in wait, determined to add a second South African scalp to that of the Lions before they head off on tour to South Africa on Saturday.
Mike Greenaway reports for IOL.
The Sharks have had a week in New Zealand’s adventure capital in which they worked hard at the Wakatipu Rugby Club and played hard in the mountains, but now that they are in the shadow of the infamous House of Pain, there is a realisation that this tour could become an Everest if the Highlanders put them to the sword, or should that be claymore.
It really ought not to happen, given that the Sharks are unbeaten and this young Otago team has lost six out of seven games, provided the Sharks maintain their focus, because 12 years of Super rugby have shown that the bottom teams can beat those at the top when hunger on one side meets complacency on the other.
“There is no danger of us underestimating the Highlanders,” said coach Dick Muir.
“They are a fiery bunch and have been unlucky to lose most of their games. They have been a bit like the Cheetahs in the way they have lost close games at the very death.”
The Sharks have not been scoring tries and Muir believes the Sharks have found some remedies for their misfiring backline.
“For one thing, we will be looking to scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar to be more assertive and to be a strong link between forwards and backs, while Bradley Barritt calls the plays from inside centre,” Muir said.
“In general we need the backline to control the game more, to make more play.
“Against the Hurricanes last week, there was a (lack of) communication issue, with occasions when the backs wanted the ball, but the forwards kept it, and times when the backs did not want the ball, but were given it.
Muir and the Sharks arrived in Dunedin to find that the Highlanders team does not contain two of its best players, local heroes Jimmy Cowan and Jamie Mackintosh.
The scrumhalf and prop respectively have been benched and are among five changes coach Glen Moore has made to the team that beat the Lions 29-20.
Cowan is replaced by Toby Morland and Chris King comes in at loosehead prop.
Powerful Niva Ta’auso is back from injury at outside centre in place of Brett Mather while blindside flanker Adam Thompson gets a start in place of massive Hoani MacDonald, who moves to lock and Hayden Triggs to the reserve bench.Tweet