The Sharks’ task of beating the Brumbies on Saturday got a whole lot tougher on Tuesday when the Brumbies’ executive effectively sacked coach Laurie Fisher.
Mike Greenaway of the Mercury is on tour with the Sharks.
In a replica of what happened at the New South Wales Waratahs two weeks ago when Ewen McKenzie was told his contract would not be renewed, Fisher was told that he could see out the Super 14, but thereafter would be surplus to requirements.
A new coach has already been appointed – Australian Andy Friend, who is the current coach of Harlequins in England and a former assistant coach of the Brumbies.
The issue for the Sharks is that Fisher is popular with the young players he has been bringing through at the rebuilding Brumbies, although the powers that be feel that Fisher has not brought them through quickly enough.
The Brumbies are in ninth place in the log and have not made the semifinals since Fisher took over from David Nucifora in 2005.
The Brumbies won their second Super 12 title in 2004, which was Nucifora’s last year in charge, when Fisher was the forwards’ coach.
What is relevant for the Sharks is that there is a tradition in Super rugby whereby a team always wins in the week that a coach is sacked.
It happened a fortnight ago when the Waratahs showed McKenzie’s bosses two fingers by comprehensively beating the visiting Blues and confounding the form book.
Closer to home for the Sharks and Dick Muir, it happened in the week that Kevin Putt was sacked and Muir took over, again against the run of play, so to speak.
By that stage Putt was not exactly popular, but the squad was nevertheless simmering with emotion and that carried the day in Durban against a very strong Brumbies team, funnily enough.
And Fisher is a well-liked coach, so the Sharks can expect a player backlash of note.
“It does not make it any easier for us,” admitted Muir with a wistful smile, “but we thrive on challenges, and will just have to break that tradition.”
The Brumbies also have the motivation of having a slight chance of making the semifinals (they have 20 points and the current fourth-placed team has 26), and a win for them is non-negotiable if they are to stay in the hunt.
“They will be backing themselves to make it because they will feel they are only now approaching playing to their potential,” Muir said, “while we are extremely keen to build momentum now as the race to the semifinals looms, so it is adding up to be one heck of a match.”
The Sharks on Monday trained at Randwick rugby club in Coogee, and the team that will play the Brumbies began to materialise through the rain that drizzled down.
It seems that Rory Kockott will definitely start at scrumhalf ahead of Ruan Pienaar, in a move to give the Sharks a shot of fizz on attack. On the left wing, JP Pietersen will be back in place of Waylon Murray after the former was axed from the match 22 for the Highlanders match so that he would give some thought to his form.
Captain Johann Muller has been cleared by an ear, nose and throat specialist to play should the pain subside in his burst ear drum, and he will not train this week to give himself the best chance of making kick-off.
The biggest concern for Muir is Keegan Daniel. The open-side flank began the training session on Tuesday to see how his suspect lower back would fare, but he packed it in fairly soon and spent the rest of the session receiving treatment from physio Ruan Fourie.
Muir said that Daniel had not yet been ruled out of the match. If he cannot play, A J Venter will start.Tweet